It’s been 166 years since Edgar Allan Poe died at age 40. Still, his legacy looms large, especially this time of year. Poe’s short stories and poems – “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Black Cat,” “The Raven” – deal with death and murder and the macabre, and are the perfect reading material during the spooky season.
For five years now, the folks at the Modern Theater (and formerly Lake City Playhouse) have taken Poe’s words and put them on stage, where they’ve been sung, spoken and even danced to. This year’s “A Night of Edgar Allan Poe” is no different, and on Saturday a number of actors and musicians will tackle the Poe canon.
The project is headed by Zachariah Baker, the Modern’s musical director. He’ll be joined by Robbie Frazer on percussion, and a number of actors and singers, including Abbey Crawford, Lanz Babbitt, Marianne McLaughlin, Nicholas Bailey and Quinn Vaira.
Baker has written music to accompany several of Poe’s poems, and the evening is strung together with readings from the yearlong correspondence Poe had with Annie Locke Richmond.
“It will follow the rise and fall … you can almost call it an obsession with this woman,” Baker said. “There’s no letters from her to him that are available … whereas letters he wrote to her are numerous.”
The correspondence spans the year leading up to his death in 1849. “He gets sick and he asks her to come visit him,” Baker said. “It’s pretty clear he’s in love with her.”
Baker has been involved in the show for all five years. The first year, Baker performed a single song. His role has grown with each performance. He took it over last year as the Modern (then still known as Lake City Playhouse) was in the process of absorbing Interplayers.
“We had a lot on our plate,” Baker said. George Green, the Modern’s executive director, was considering canceling the event. Baker stepped in. “I said, ‘Give me a date, give me a space and we’ll make it work.’ ”
So after a year at the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane, they moved the show back to Coeur d’Alene for 2014. “I basically turned the entire thing into music,” Baker said.
This year, the show is returning to the Bing, and he will be repeating an experiment from last year. Stephen Shortridge, a Coeur d’Alene painter and gallery owner (and former Hollywood actor), got up on stage and live-painted a piece that was auctioned off at the end of the night. This year, Baker plans to continue this with amateur artists on stage.
“The idea is that the painting is shaped by what’s happening on stage,” Baker said. “That was one of my favorite aspects last year.”
“I like to keep some things from year to year that are especially good,” he said. “The people who have come in the past will hear some familiar things and a lot of new things.”
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