Poor Edgar. In Dennis Paolis one-man play, beautifully directed by Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs portrays the bedraggled Southern poet, Poe, in a staged reading. Hes a bundle of idiosyncrasies tremors and a hesitation to complete sentences. The man is ill with fevers and despondent over the recent death of his wife, yet from the twinkle in Combs eye, its clear he rather enjoys the attention of strangers, and is deeply proud of his masterwork, The Raven, which hell recite when he gets around to it. His concentration, and his ability to perform, are steadily more impeded by the after effects of a bottle of whiskey, which he clutches at the inside of his suit. Fortunately, he recites The Tell-Tale Heart while still lucid, and what an absurd, showoff-y, macabre display it is pure Victorian melodrama, in the style of Chekhovs one-act, one-man show: On the Harmfulness of Tobacco, also about man making a presentation ostensibly for one purpose, while undone by another. Chekhovs character is persecuted by his wife, or by his imaginings of her. Edgar is torn by the presence of his fiancée, who is assessing whether her groom-to-be can stay on the wagon. The harrowing answer becomes self-evident as, in one scene, he goes off on a spontaneous rant against Longfellow; and in another, as hes leaping around to a poem about bells, he abruptly falls off the stage into the orchestra pit. Its an almost unbelievably hammy turn, as mannered as the style of the era hes depciting, a gorgeous rendition of a tragic clown whose heart has been cleaved open by loss and regret. His rendition of The Raven is clearly an homage to his late wife, and how any hope of her return is forbidden by the reprise of this shows title. Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 2. (323) 666-4268.
Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: July 12. Continues through Aug. 29, 2009