Poefest 2013: Downtown Phoenix Can't Get Enough Creepiness

The setup: For five years now, Arizona Curriculum Theater has been sharing with public audiences some damn frightening stories and poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, thereby raising the company's profile and funds for their great work introducing literature and the arts to students. The individual selections rotate, new ones are added from time to time, and as I noticed last weekend, the same story can sound even more horrifying after a four-year break. (Kind of like getting back on a thrill ride on which you've been before and about which you now have concrete doubts.)

See also: Curtains: Poe at Soul Invictus

Meanwhile, Halloween is crazier than New Year's Eve around here, and you can hardly get into any swell event. Could be because the weather just improved and we all have finally-getting-out-of-the-house mania.

What this means is that you won't be able to get a ticket to Poefest 2013 in the Ghost Lounge of the historic Hotel San Carlos, but there are other options:

  • a show tonight at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library;
  • a number of West Valley Arts Council Read 13 events: a Monday lunchtime performance at the State Capitol location of the State Library, another evening show next week in Peoria, and a Halloween morning performance at the Sun City library;
  • and, finally, a wrapup marathon of "The Raven" readings on Halloween night in the genuine creepy Victorian Rosson House Museum in downtown Phoenix's Heritage Square. (Details at the end of this post.)

Let me just outline that Rosson House experience for you, though: Secretly buy your tickets in advance, stroll around downtown doing regular Halloweeny things with a friend or a date who doesn't read this blog (there must be a few), be within a few minutes of Rosson House shortly before your designated showtime, pretend to be super-scared by something, say "Let's just run in here for a minute," enter Rosson House, and actor James David Porter will scare the spleens right out of both of you as he gets all crazypants on the grand staircase.

Twenty minutes later, you'll definitely have something to talk or fight about for the rest of the evening. Nevermore, bitch!

The execution: I wanted to see a selection I hadn't seen before, so I chose to squeeze into Ghost Lounge on a night when Danette Porter was performing a new non-Poe addition, "Mary Shelley's Dream." This performance is based on an introduction in Shelley's own words to a reprinting of Frankenstein, explaining how Mary Godwin (living with Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was still married to his estranged and soon-to-be-drowned wife Harriet at the time) came to write the book. (Synopsis: Lord Byron, "Mr. and Mrs." Shelley, bunch of other nutty poets, etc., at least two of them pregnant as all hell, on crappy, rain-soaked Swiss vacation.)

Why is this scary? Well, the concept of Poefest is that each storyteller (masterful professional actors all) is an inmate of a 19th-century lunatic asylum. Why would Mary Shelley be there? Ms. Porter does a fine job of selling it in a general way, but if you'd like to be a bit better prepared, read about her life, even just the part up until 1831 when the selection was written. Holy fuck, people. (Also, she probably had a brain tumor for an unspecified length of time before her death.)

Despite relentless craic from Seamus McCaffrey's Irish Pub next door and noise from Monroe Street just outside (with which you will not have to deal, because, again, all the San Carlos tickets have been sold), Danette Porter was riveting with her sweet face, miles-long elaborate coiffure that seemed to have been slowly unraveling over the months or years since her commitment, sky-blue cloak from the glory days over a tattered and stained muslin shift, and peals of ironic laughter.

The second story was "The Black Cat," and Beau Heckman brought a whole mess of fresh nuances and imagery to this masterwork I was introduced to at the first Poefest: a first-person confession that builds gradually and inexorably to just the worst, most horrible chain of events. I had to hug myself and close my eyes from time to time and wanted to yell out in misery toward the end. Hurray? Well, yes, that was some good theater.

The verdict: Any taste of Poefest is going to be some of the scariest shit you've ever experienced, largely because you'll be convinced (and rightly so) that human beings are capable of ultimate delusion and evil. If that's your thing, scuttle on down -- and enter the raffle, because you could win a lifetime Poefest pass for two, meaning you can wonder whether life has any meaning once a year at the very minimum.

Poefest continues in one form or another through Thursday, October 31. Click here for scheduled stories, dates, times, venues, and links to buy tickets. Call 1-888-343-4228 for more info. Admission to standing-room Rosson House performances of "The Raven" are $10.

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