The Power of Imagination In “Edgar Allan Poe”

Duffy Hudson as Edgar Allan Poe. All photos by Carlos Hernandez.

Force of Nature Productions‘ “Edgar Allan Poe” had its brief, bravura run at Burbank’s Generation DCD performance and practice space, and true to its minimalist staging and intimate setting, it relied on imagination — that of the audience and of its star, Duffy Hudson — to take a one-act one man show into intriguing heights of melancholy, madness and the macabre. It had to, because the show sketched out its setting with a few pieces of furniture, a few candles and some mood lighting, and because Hudson deliberately invoked the oft-mentioned “magic of the theater” with an introductory mini-act in which donned costume and make-up and told his listeners how he came to acting and to the works of Poe himself.

Edgar Allan Poe himself hardly needs any introduction to the average Creepy LA reader. One of the founders of modern English-language popular and genre literature, Poe pioneered the short story, the detective story and the horror story. A profound influence on later creators, Poe was particularly revered by H.P. Lovecraft (of Cthulhu Mythos fame) and by the fabulists of the French Theatre du Grand Guignol. B-movie king Roger Corman adapted some of Poe’s works (often rather loosely) to the screen with horror great Vincent Price in the 1960s.

After transforming himself to Poe before our very eyes, Hudson then gave the audience a snapshot of Poe’s life as he woke from a drunken stupor before a literary society (the audience) and set out to explain himself and his works. Recitations included the famous short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the impassioned poetry of “Annabel Lee,” and of course, the classic, “The Raven.”

Hudson’s Poe is a wounded creature, suffering from a horrible series of deaths and feelings of abandonment which he drowns with liquor. For all that Poe invokes morbidity and the fantastic (or as writers of his time might have put it, “the phantastic”), it becomes clear that Hudson’s Poe is only putting on the affectations of Gothic nightmares in his work. He lives in a real hell, and gruesome stories and poetry are only a polite way for him to let out the screams of his suffering on paper. Where his later acolytes in letters would try to use horror and mystery for their own sake, Poe’s work was more confessional–as Hudson points out, “The Raven” was a poem addressing eternal grief that Poe wrote while someone he loved was dying in the next room.

A one-man show about Edgar Allan Poe in Los Angeles invites comparisons with Jeffrey Combs’ own shows from a few years back. The comparison here is a positive one, because Duffy Hudson’s Poe is sufficiently distinguished as his own that it can be judged on its considerable merits, and both actors gave credible, moving, accurate interpretations of the tortured writer.

It was a powerful show, and lightning fast: Barely an hour long, with a ripping pace and tons of energy. The audience could have been a bit more responsive, as everyone (sadly, yes, everyone) failed to applaud at key points where applause was well deserved. But at least Hudson’s hard work and strong talent were acknowledged at the very end of the performance. Here’s hoping for a revival of “Edgar Allan Poe” sometime soon, and for those who tread into that murky limbo between the creepy and — shudder! — Christmas, Mr. Hudson will return later this year with his version of Dickens’ ghostly holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol.”