MADNESS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE: A Love Storyfirst folio theatre

 First Folio Theatre 

 Director:  Michael Goldberg


You begin to absorb the eerie atmosphere of “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” as you make a brief walk from the parking lot of the Mayslake Estate to the Peabody Mansion, and wait in one of two very small groups in the long dimly-lit wood-paneled library.  Your anticipation and curiosity grows, while you glide between scenes from room to room, guided by characters in the play, and at one point climb the paint- peeling stairway up to the bedrooms.

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Ranting from his poem “The Bells” in the opening library setting, Edgar Allan Poe (played by Christian Gray) grabs your sympathy and does not let go as Poe’s life unfolds mainly about his love for his cherished wife, Virginia, her death and that of his mother and foster mother.  The interplay of this setting, Poe’s life events, his madness, and his writing offer some of the most unique theater ever.  No, the play is not a spooky affair geared to the season, but a beautiful exploration and exposition about Edgar Allan Poe, likely to make a long-lasting impact on your being.

This review will not describe the usual construction of the play or a plot…better to let it unfold fresh the first time for new viewers to sustain the suspense and wonderful surprises.  However, discussion of the superb acting and many other aspects, if permitted, could be much too extensive.

Beginning with Poe’s character, Christian Gray’s gifted voice is beautiful for the gentle moments as well as the madness.  He whispers, modulates and yet explodes passionately while crying out lines from his poems.  Mrs. Poe, his beloved Virginia, played by Diane Mair, carried her part well two years ago, but in this production, she surely owns this role!  In the first scene Mair seems to match Poe’s madness a little, but then conveys a woman of a hundred possible expressions, using just the right one for the right moment.

One of the best supporting roles I have ever seen is the brilliant portrayal of the madman by Michael Holding.  When Holding first appeared, he looked too polite and handsome for this particular part.  Almost in seconds he changes into the madman, and I tensed up and felt the pit in my stomach tighten, as I watched a most remarkable and memorable performance.  He was so convincing, I wanted to immediately call 911 for him.

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Like the mansion, sound becomes another character.  Few plays use sound and music as effectively as “Madness…” from a frightening beating heart to a waltz, as well as silence.  And, of course, lighting works its magic for a full atmospheric effect…without any strobes or glitz.

Thanks go to David Rice for the original work with help from Poe’s words, and the detailed direction of Michael Goldberg for a thrilling evening.  Currently in its fourth production, First Folio Theatre created a classic for the Chicago area, likely to become a yearly event.  It could easily grow to other geographic areas, and with luck, perhaps other mansions might be found for the performances.

Finally, you do not just learn about Edgar Allan Poe.  “Madness…” captures the essence of Poe, making you feel his anguished emotions and his haunting writing.  Do not be shocked if you find the need to search out and read Poe’s works after seeing this play.

In the meantime, as in the past, “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” with its limited audience size is likely to sell out, so I would encourage those interested to order tickets soon, or face a wait of a few years to experience this special exciting theater.  It is difficult to imagine another play interpreting Edgar Allan Poe’s life any better…different perhaps, but better?  Unlikely.

Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Margaret Eva

 September 29, 2012

First Folio Theatre – Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st Street and Route 83, Oak Brook. IL.

 Performances, Wednesdays thru Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Additional performances added Oct. 20 at 5 p.m., Oct. 24 at 3 p.m., Nov. 1  at 3 p.m. and Saturday Nov. 3 at 5 p.m.

 Tickets are $26-$37.  Call 630.986.8067 or

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