Jeffrey Combs Brings One-Man Edgar Allan Poe Performance Back From the Dead
It’s been quite awhile since actor Jeffrey Combs, best known for his role as Dr. Herbert West from the 1980s cult classic Re-Animator, has picked up his Edgar Allan Poe suit, combed his mustache to capture the author’s famed look, and stepped on stage to perform a one-man show where he recites notable works by the master of the literary dark arts.
But when he reprises his solo stage production on Halloween night in Somerville, he imagines the spirit of Poe will be alive and well, and his portrayal of the late writer will come creeping back as if he never buried the act in the first place.
“It’s kind of like picking up a guitar, and doing just one concert after not having done a concert for awhile,” said Combs. “A lot of the material is engrained in me, because when I first started doing these performances I had a 6 month run and toured it around the country.”
On October 31, Combs will take over the main stage at the Somerville Theatre, a venue he deemed fitting for a night of Poe-centric readings due to its early 20th century design and architecture, to perform Nevermore: An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe, a 90-minute show that exhumes the writer’s tortured soul through a powerful adaptation of his essays and poetry.
“There’s a lot of melancholy there. He’s the king of melancholy,” said Combs. “It’s quite an energetic evening.”
Relying on the ominous glow of candlelight, the play, written by Dennis Paoli and directed by Stuart Gordon, begins with a reading of The Tell-Tale Heart, and slowly takes attendees down the dark spiral of Poe’s alcohol-fueled life, and eventual demise, through the scriptures that gave him his name when he was here in Boston hundreds of years ago.
“I’m really looking forward to this performance because Boston has an interesting and contentious relationship with Poe,” said Combs, who has dedicated years of his own life examining the literary trail left by Poe from the start of his career through the depths of his insanity.
Combs said typically when people hear that a play will be centered specifically on the macabre historical subject, they immediately equate it with a night packed with extreme sadness.
But with Combs’ on-stage interpretation of the author’s personality, he says that’s not the case.
“If I tell anybody I do a one-man show of Poe, the first thing I see is a heavy shadow over their eyes, and they think, ‘what a turgid sad evening that’s going to be,’” the actor said. “Yes, there are certainly those colors there, but I infuse this imaginary recital with humor. Poe was very witty, and charming, and sarcastic—and outright funny.”
Combs’ performance, which started more than a decade ago after a brainstorming session with Gordon, has been described as a “tour de force” that pulls the crowd into Poe’s troubled, excitable mind to get a view of his “depressive angst.”
“One thing I have discovered with Poe, the reason his short stories are so successful is his ability to switch from highs to lows, and from tension to release. So I sort of follow that motif [during the performance]. I never keep it too melancholy for too long,” said Combs.
The special one-time performance, which will bring Combs all the way to Boston from his Los Angeles digs, coincides with the unveiling of a new Poe bust that’s being installed at the Boston Public Library.
The statue, created by artist Bryan Moore, an acquaintance of Combs’, was funded through a Kickstarter campaign aided by well-known Hollywood types such as George R.R. Martin and director Guillermo del Toro. The bust will officially be on display for public viewing one day prior to Combs’ play, which is meant to supplement the celebration and bring an eerie sense of authenticity to the Halloween season.
“It’s all to the betterment of the awareness of Poe,” said Combs about the bust and the play. “I hope people come away realizing what a complex person he was, and how monumental it was that he did what he did in his life, given the real hardship that he grew up with. He was alone, and for a man to overcome that and to fight off his demons and persevere, and leave the body of work that he left, is really something to be admired. I also hope people come away with a fuller picture of Poe.”
October is chock full of Poe-related activities here in Boston. Weeks prior to Combs’ arrival to the city, a separate non-profit group will officially install a life-sized Poe statue in a square dedicated and named after the author, who once resided in the area.
“Nevermore: An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe,” Friday, October 31, at 8 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. More info and tickets here.