A new educational performance company is in town, scaring your kids and introducing them to actual literature. And they are kicking ass at it, based on the public performances of Poe that Arizona Curriculum Theater is currently presenting at Soul Invictus. (The Emily Dickinson programming in their catalog might not be as creepy -- but who am I to say?)
If you have any say in who gets hired as visiting artists at a school, I urge you to try to include these guys in the mix: top-notch professional actors who take control with the sheer attracting force of their compelling talent. Then, with the students in their thrall, the company apparently employs its skills and experience in making young people have fun and learn stuff -- including respect for the power of language and good old-fashioned damn good writing, to balance out all their exposure to Kanye and the Saw series, for example.
Poe is a deceptively simple evening. One wooden chair is placed in the middle of the stage. Jim Coates tells us "The Cask of Amontillado." Word for word, as written. But (as you may already know) this is a horror story told in the first person, by someone with an unnamed grudge against a guileless enemy. So Coates' sharing of the story with us is 100% pure, mind-blowing acting. Every movement of his finger, every little sound his shoes make on the floor, every breath, every laugh, every pause is a vital component in a complete and riveting experience -- not unlike the careful planning and construction of a secret, impenetrable wall.
Then, with a brilliantly conceived (but, again, quite simple) segue, James David Porter narrates "The Tell-Tale Heart," making it even more obvious how much more horrifying these classic tales are when you are assaulted with a live, 3D incarnation of the characters and what they did, and how.
When I attended the show, I ran into an old friend who was there with a new friend. New Friend was particularly impressed by the controlled power of Porter's ranting lunatic. Old Friend (another theater person) and I are aware that both actors' work was masterful and breathtaking, but yeah, Porter is accomplishing something that's almost painfully true to life.
Despite all the craft the two performers display, Poe is unpretentious and realistic, and you can just let it flow over you and freak you out. Happy Halloween!
The advance event info notes that an actor named Jesse Berger will be featured tonight, but Porter confirms that the show continues to feature just Coates and himself, after all. Nevertheless, based on Berger's reputation locally and Arizona Curriculum Theater's evident professionalism and attention to detail, I'd say it matters not a whit whether a colleague is replacing Coates or Porter or even both (or, for that matter, making Rice Krispies treats on a camp stove outside -- I'd pay to see these people do anything).
Poe continues tonight through Saturday night, October 31, at 8 p.m. at Soul Invictus, 1022 Grand Avenue. Call 1-888-343-4-ACT for tickets, or order here. Admission is $15 in advance and $20 at the door. The show is not recommended for people younger than 12 years old, but they may attend with an accompanying adult.