When his two guardians ship eleven-year-old Edgar Allan off to boarding school, he couldn't be happier. It's a chance to sharpen his skills and gain an unparalleled education. Most importantly, it presents him with a whole new playing field to dominate. Edgar seems to have only one goal in life: to be the best in everything. Imagine his chagrin, then, when he encounters a boy at school whose name is also Edgar Allan, and who seems to threaten Edgar's coveted place in the spotlight.
Inspired by the childhood of Edgar Allan Poe and drawing upon some of his short stories, Edgar Allan is a perfect piece of dark comedy devised and acted by Brooklyn based theatre team the Coldharts: Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan. After picking up numerous awards in fringe festivals across the U.S., this one-act musical is set for a brief run at SoHo Playhouse as part of the theatre's 2017 Fringe Encore Series -- and it's well worth catching.
The show begins with Katie Hartman -- as eleven-year-old Edgar Allan -- strumming a ukulele with a demented expression on her face, the theatre around her in shadow. (Shadow and light are used to great effect throughout.) For a moment, I found this image jarring. It clashed with my sense of Poe as a somber man with a haunted face -- I doubt he played the ukulele -- but soon Hartman's superb acting won me over. By turns adorable and terrifying, but always manic, Hartman gives a captivating performance as young Edgar Allan.
Meanwhile, as the other Edgar Allan, Nick Ryan turns out a performance that is hilarious in all the best ways possible. His deadpan acting and hoarse whispery voice (this Edgar Allan apparently can't speak above a whisper) perfectly complement Hartman's over-the-top hysterics as the first Edgar. It's a play during which (if you're anything like me and the other audience members I saw it with) you'll find yourself laughing repeatedly out of pure delight -- and also because it's incredibly funny.
It's not all comedy, though. Or, I guess, that depends on what you call "comedy." There's a delicious undercurrent of dark gothic madness running through this play like a slowly brewing storm, and by the end of Act I (where the play in its current form ends) the thunder cracks. I suppose it's still comical, in a demented sort of way. Mainly it's just very Edgar Allan (Poe).
If you're still wondering just what exactly this play is, here's a definition: Edgar Allan is what you get when you turn out a script so proficiently written it seems like a playwriting miracle, then put it in the mouths of two darkly funny yet fascinating characters played by a pair of crazy good actors. Add some creepy lighting effects, and at that point not even a ukulele can ruin what you've created: sheer theatrical heaven.