Three days before he died, Edgar Allen Poe was found unconscious on a street in Baltimore, devoid of mustache and wearing a stranger's attire. Such bizarre circumstances were apt for a writer who had helped to conceive the genre of mystery.
Red-Eye to Havre de Grace, directed by 1994 Colorado College graduate Thaddeus Phillips, takes a stab at recreating what might have happened. Three actors use a door, a table and a live musical score to place real events from the final year of the poet's life into a theatrical story. The plot isn't as much fiction as it is a surrealistic rearrangement of reality.
"It's kind of like a twilight zone that you are watching on stage," Phillips says.
Founder of the acclaimed Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental theater company, Phillips has won praise for the innovative ways he employs blocking, media and props. For instance, in one scene in Red-Eye, Poe moves through an entire house, all the while using just one door.
With minimalist set design, Denver native Phillips intends to conjure sensations of vast spaces and, specifically, the spirit of the American West.
"The American system doesn't really care about art," he says, "and in a way, this Poe work is a metaphor for a lone individual struggling against that."
The play takes on the feeling of film in the way scenes connect, incorporating live jump cuts and a continuous opera soundtrack with two live pianos and a clarinet.
The entire process of creating Red-Eye has been based around a few props, as well as improvisation and spontaneous brainstorming from Phillips and actors Jeremy Wilhelm, Geoff Sobelle and Courtney King. Although the plot isn't about Poe's writing, Phillips and Wilhelm, a 1996 CC graduate, wrote songs for the play based on the poet's letters.
"We all kind of write [the script]," Phillips says. "I design the toys we play with. Then we see what they can do. You start with just an idea of something, and through experimentation and playing with objects, you discover and create something else, as opposed to just learning your lines."
And Red-Eye continues to be an experiment. The creators and players hope to tweak the show into a more powerful performance with their appearance at Colorado College this week. The company is also working to organize a national tour.
Red-Eye to Havre de Grace
CC Armstrong Theater, 14 E. Cache la Poudre St.
Friday, June 30, and Saturday, July 1, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $5-$15; call 389-6098 or visit artsfestival.coloradocollege.edu for more.