Off-Broadway Theater Review: NEVERMORE (Catalyst Theatre at New World Stages)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on January 25, 2015

in Theater-New York


For all its surface eccentricity, Nevermore, The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, written, composed, and directed by Jonathan Christenson, suffers from a profound lack of dramatic imagination and theatricality. This stylized bio-musical about the great American poet, which boasts many rousing—at times bombastic—musical compositions, and attention-grabbing costumes and hairstyles that look like a cross between steampunk-goth and something out of a Tim Burton movie (entire production designed by Bretta Gerecke), feels like a disguised History Channel “documentary,” with all the want for nuance and subtlety that this implies.

Lindsie VanWinkle, Scott Shpeley, Shannon Blanchet

Written in bland verse, the continuous narration of the poet’s life, force fed to us by various ensemble performers, is not only tedious and simplistic, but it also eviscerates whatever potential for drama this production might have had; instead of showing us events in a theatrical way, a narrator describes them while other performers punctuate the words with pedestrian gestures. Take away the big stage, the music, the colored lights, and the intricate costumes, and all that is left is the life story of a complex man—a poet genius—re-imagined in an obtuse and inartistic way.

Scott Shpeley

Nevermore begins with an adult Poe (Scott Shpeley) encountering a troupe of actors on a steamboat headed for Baltimore. The actors reveal that they are admirers of his dead mother, who was a great actress. Poe asks them what she was like; as they start to tell him, the flashback begins. We see Poe’s parents as performers. Then his father leaves, his mother dies, and Poe and his two siblings are adopted by three different families. Then it’s Poe’s life in the Allan household (his adopted home), his school years, university, etc., all the way up to his death…and beyond! It’s obvious storytelling that feels like it’s geared for people who are too lazy to read and would rather have Poe’s condensed biography sung to them.

Garett Ross, Scott Shpeley, Ryan Parker, Gaelan Beatty

The singing is one of the few joys of Nevermore. Mr. Shpeley’s resounding voice is most effective; the entire ensemble does a fine job vocally. And the songs work, as long as one can ignore Mr. Christenson’s mostly on-the-nose lyrics. Still, for all his mistakes, and as muddy as the show is—even the lighting lacks crispness—Mr. Christenson does have a vision. That vision appears to be of a world nightmarish and magical, whimsical and sadistic, cartoonish yet sincere. It’s difficult to break one’s sentimental attachment to words one has written, especially when they rhyme. But if Mr. Christenson were to retool his creation, jettison the narration, most of his lyrics, and a third of the story points he’s stuffed in there, and then theatricalize the rest, we might end up seeing the same vision he’s seeing when watching Nevermore.

Scott Shpeley

Additional cast: Gaelan Beatty, Shannon Blanchett, Beth Graham, Ryan Parker, Garett Ross, and Lindsie VanWinkle.

Beth Graham, Garett Ross

photos by Joan Marcus

Garett Ross, Scott Shpeley

The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe
Catalyst Theatre
New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street
Mon at 7; Wed at 8; Thurs at 2:30 & 8;
Fri at 8; Sat at 2:30 & 8; Sun at 3
ends on March 29, 2015
for tickets, call 212.239.6200 or visit
for more info, visit

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