Dramas about Edgar Allan Poe’s personal life and adaptations of his best-known short stories are a virtual cottage industry, but kudos to First Folio Shakespeare Festival for a brilliant cross-fertilization of both types of Poe plays into a single, interactive audience experience that uses the magnificent space of the actual thirty-room Tudor “Peabody’s Tomb” mansion—considered haunted in Chicago folklore for decades—as an opportunity to spend an evening with Mr. and Mrs. Poe and the characters of his best-known works. Ushered into the cavernous library of the estate, Poe—in the persona of actor Larry Neumann Jr.—welcomes you as guests as the real Poe would do, reading “The Bells.” Neumann’s soliloquy and his magnificent use of silence and vocal cadences in an ever-so-slight Southern accent (as would have been historically accurate, rather than the faux British accent that many Poe wannabes prefer) send the audience’s imaginations into overdrive. We meet young Mrs. Virginia “Sissy” Poe (Diane Muir) and learn of their intense love affair in the Poe dining room and of the death of Poe’s mother and stepmother in his childhood and later of even his young wife, all by consumption, which the play uses as an implicit explanation for Poe’s macabre literary fixations. “Ligea” takes us into an abandoned church (for real, by the way) for a story that takes place in an abandoned abbey. Then it’s up the hand-carved wooden staircase to an attic—with Poe memorably reciting “The Raven” for you on the way—where actor Robert Allan Smith relishes in gradual madness in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and as the prisoner who meets a cutting-edge fate in a blackened torture chamber in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” before heading down for a family dance party that re-enacts “The Masque of the Red Death” complete with death, cloaked in red, making a chilling appearance. This is the second year for this superb David Rice-written and Alison C. Vesely-directed production, and it’s already impossible to imagine a Chicago Halloween season without it. (Dennis Polkow)
At Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st and Route 83, Oak Brook, (630)986-8067. This production is now closed.