Updated: Jun 10, 2021
Word of the day: Macabre
1. Having death as a subject; comprising or including a personalized representation of death.
2. Dwelling on the gruesome.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Macabre. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved May 29, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/macabre
When you learn Edgar Allen Poe died at 40 years old, you may be taken aback, but 40 was actually slightly above the average life expectancy in 1849. No one knows exactly how he died on Oct. 7, 1949, four days after being brought to the hospital when he was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore. And even if the progressed knowledge in today's medicine could now answer Poe's cause of death, there is still the mishap of all of his medical records being lost to-date. For a man who spent a lot of his writing career fixated on death, Poe's own is a mystery. This perhaps adds to the consistent allure of the famed writer across multiple generations for the past 171 years.
On May 29, The Pocket Theatre, Hot Springs’ home to community theatre, conducted a reading of three famous Poe works: The Raven, performed by Kevin Brown; The Tell-Tale Heart, performed by Kevin Day; and The Masque of the Red Death, performed by Casey Chandler Wylie. Directed by Steve Mitchell and inspired by Pocket Board Member James Kendall, everyone had Poe appreciation to share after their night of creep and horror.
"As a child I read The Raven, and ever since I've been in love with Edgar Allen Poe," Kendall said.
"I think everyone likes a little bit of the macabre. Everyone likes to be scared, though we don't really like to admit it. Everyone likes a little bit of that suspense, and that thrill. I think a majority of Poe's work really pushes the boundaries of that, and I think it's timeless. ... He's as popular today as I think he's ever been."
Mitchell said his mother is who introduced him to Poe as a child.
"The Masque of the Red Death was one I always remember her reading to us, and it always stuck with me," he said. "I like the themes of death he brings in a lot. It's very dark, and yet it always brings up these moods within me like death and destruction, and that type of thing; and horror."
Mitchell described the feelings Poe gives him as one of those things when you see something tragic happening, but you can't seem to turn away from it.
"It's not so much as he's a dark person," Wylie said in her analysis of Poe, "as he's really a good example of a man of the time who was able to emote, which is hard for guys.
"I think he really embodies that poet, that really feeling person; a man who's really in touch with his emotions, even the dark ones, and those are important because without darkness we don't know happiness."
Day, who has had a fixation with dark literature since he was a child, described Poe's work as perfect.
"He's one of my favorite authors of all time," Day said. "Anyone can write happy, light stories ... he experienced so much of that loss, he was familiar with that darkness, and when you read his stuff you feel it. I guess that's what I like best about his writing, is you can feel his anguish."
"And I think that's why he resonates," Brown chimed in. "Everyone's had darkness at some point in their life. I think as much as people may not want to face it and hear it sometimes, I think it's cathartic for people to face it.
"For some reason it's cathartic and comforting to hear such a dark time put so eloquently, like what Poe does."
The show, which is the second live event the theatre has had post COVID-19, brought out about 40 people. It's part of a new program by the theatre called Pocket Reader's Theatre, and is free to the public. Kendall said the purpose of the new program is to fill in the gap months between plays produced by the theatre. It's an easy way to keep the community consistently involved with The Pocket, without requiring the readers, who also perform in the plays, to use an ample amount of their time rehearsing. If the talent seen on Saturday that required "minimal rehearsal" is just a taste of what's to come in the play productions, clear your schedule for the next play. (Which is To Kill a Mockingbird from Aug. 6-8 and 13-15. Time and ticket details will be posted to the organization's Facebook page, @pocket.communitytheatre.)
The next Pocket Reader's Theatre will be in July. The reading and dates will be posted to the Facebook page. Reading ideas are encouraged to be sent to the page. Mitchell said they are looking to do perhaps sci-fi, or something that incorporates live music, next.
Do you live in Hot Springs, but have not been to The Pocket yet? Tucked away at 170 Ravine Street, off of Park Ave., is the endearing Pocket Theatre that has held quality talent by your neighbors for the past 25 years.
"These are not professional actors, but that doesn't mean that the quality of the performance isn't going to be of professional quality," Kendall said. "These are teachers, bus drivers; just all walks of life that outside of their 9-5 job like to get on stage, and like to act.
"That's the thing that makes it so fun, because even though we're a community theatre, and we don't have any professional actors, and we don't pay any actors, and everyone is volunteering; we have such a dedicated group of people from the directors, to the actors, to the people that work behind the stage; and we have a comradery and family environment. We really just do get along, and we're a theatre family, and that translates on the stage to a really good show."