The West Australian, Feb 2000

From The West Australian, 4-Feb-00

Poe as lived by a mental case


I Might Be Edgar Allen Poe

by Dawson Nichols

Collective Unconcious

Review: Naomi Millett

AMERICAN playwright Dawson Nichols' I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe takes an unusual slant on biography and the nature of truth.

Written as a monologue, the story of Poe initially emerges from the perspective of a mental patient Joseph (Canadian actor David Hayward), who, while working through his traumatic past, has so closely identified with Poe's dark themes that he has assumed the writer's persona.

Though not totally convinced himself, he suspects that at the very least he was Poe in a former life.

Unfortunately this uncertainty does not allow us a first-hand look into the famous mind, but it is the nearest we come to it. Joseph seems calm and rational, even likeable, and presents a strong case for his sanity.

Yet when he is examined by psychiatrists, we are not so sure, for neither in this convoluted questioning of truth is it certain that the doctors themselves are not mad. It is all a matter of perspective, as Joseph himself is the first to point out.

With humour and insight he recalls childhood eccentricities that may or may not have heralded later disturbance, and drops in and out of various characters to reveal how many points of view can exist simultaneously, and how difficult it is to grasp anything resembling the definitive truth.

At least one-third of the complex play consists of extracts from Poe's most famous short stories and poems, an approach that will give anyone unfamiliar with his writings a thrilling introduction.

Hayward's skill is such that it almost seems as if he is creating each line spontaneously, enhancing the power and strangeness of the texts through subtle gestures, vocal modulation and perfect timing.

Act II begins with a presentation of facts about the 19th century author. In the garb of an academic Hayward delivers a lecture from the perspective of a university professor whose obsession with his subject manifests itself in a barrage of anecdotes, references and topics to ponder. But, taken out of their original context, can we even regard the facts as trustworthy?

Monologues are risky, stressful genres at the best of times, let alone when they run for two hours, and Hayward demonstrates that he has what it takes to sustain attention.

(A fuller version of this review appeared last year when the play was performed at the Blue Room.)

I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe is at 65 Murray Street until Saturday; Princess May Theatre in Fremantle February 10 and 11 and Kulcha on February 12.