Halloween Review: Drama After Dark 2016

Courtesy of Drama After Dark: A Night of the Macabre with Poe and Gorey, Hollywood Gothique enjoyed another excellent evening of literary horror performed on the grounds of the Huntington Library last night. The event is a roughly analogous to the Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival, but the plays actually consist of verbatim readings of texts by Edgar Alan Poe and Edward Gorey. There are no technical or sound effects; the only lighting is provided by candles and torches; and there are no sets other than the lovely buildings on the grounds. Some plays take place indoors; most are outdoors, though occasionally situated beneath the roof of an open-air setting, festooned with columns and statuary that set the mood. With this bare-bones approach, all attention is focused on the text and the performance, with no bells and whistles to hide any weaknesses. Fortunately, the cast is up to the challenge.

Having attended Drama After Dark for the past three seasons, we have now seen all thirteen plays. The Poe stories feature actors delivering the author's first-person narratives directly to the audience, like a confessing murderer. The Gorey Stories are group efforts, which actors milking Gorey's gruesome verses to darkly humorous effect. All of them are wonderful to behold, but we've reached a point where we can play favorites, which led to a highly beneficial adjustment of our strategy.

The performances take place in half-hour increments at eleven locations scattered around the botanical gardens. Our first year, we ran from one location to the next (in the dark!) to get to all the titles we wanted to see. With good timing it is possible to attend seven performances starting from 6:30 to 9:30pm; however, with performance times running up to 25 minutes, that leaves as little as five minutes to zig-zag around the gardens from one distant setting to the next, insuring that one will be lucky to get a seat at all and may end up standing. Next year, we opted to attend all the performances in close proximity to each other, cutting down on distance traveled. This decreased unnecessary wandering but still did not fully optimize the experience.

This year, we opted to see only a quartet of favorites, skipping plays that started on the half-hour, which gave us more than enough time to get front row seats. What a difference! Since Drama After Dark consists mostly of one-person monologues (you know how those Poe confessionals go!), it helps immensely to be within arm's length of the actor or actress, savoring the nuances of the performance. "The Tell Tale Heart" was even more stunning than before. "Berenice" was intriguing, ghastly, and - in a sick sort of way - darkly comical in its final revelation (the sly smile as Berenice's cousin delivered Poe's punchline was priceless). "The Cask of Amontillado" chilled our blood as deeply as the nitre in Montresor's catacombs could have done. And "Gorey 1" (the first of three sets of "Gorey Stories") was more immediate and interactive, with lots of improvising from the cast as they riffed off audience reaction.

Unfortunately, Drama After Dark is a one-night-only event, but we want to importune you to mark this one in your calendars when October 2017 rolls around. Next Halloween, pick an absolute must-see favorite (be it "The Cask of Amontillado" "The Pit and the Pendlum," "The Tell Tale Heart," etc) and make that setting the central hub of your evening; then see whatever else is within easy reach, allowing you to get good seating. And on your way out, wrap things up with a stop at one of the three sets of Gorey Stories, whose macabre humor will help alleviate the lingering desultory psychological effects of overdosing on Poe's murderous narratives for a whole evening.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.

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