The terrifying tales of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) have been adapted for every form of entertainment. Yet perhaps they're best served in the audio realm; imaginations fill valleys where scares dare linger. Such is the genius behind Albany Civic Theater's tour of the doomed writer's menagerie, "A Poe Halloween Radio Show," scripted for the format by Johanna Spencer and directed by Josh Mitchell and Christie E. Sears. Must you visualize what goes bump in the night? Naw, the sonic possibilities are frightening enough.
Settle your bones for this online presentation at 7:20 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31. Prime your earholes and score your tickets (take the ride) here: https://bit.ly/3egj48T.
“The Cask of Amontillado”
Oh, those fiery Italians. Please refer to your copies of the November 1846 Godey’s Lady’s Book for details; if yours is not readily accessible, ask your ma. In this classic story, our murderous interlocutor, Montresor, can’t help but tell a friend of an ancient misdeed in which he shut an oenophilic’s trap but good. We all have one of those. Wine lovers, man, and their snooty palates. Here he goes by that grape-lover handle, Fortunado. Snob. So Montresor coaxes his quarry to Carnival on the promise of an obscure Amontillado, a dark sherry wine. Of course, the Amontillado doesn’t exist; it’s a homicidal lure. Montresor gets Fortunado roaring hammered on various spirits, then draws him into a trowel for the ultimate treasure. Instead of quaffing the coveted vintage, however, the connoisseur gets walled in by his captor (a common Poe punchline), an apparent mason in his spare time. Fifty years later, Fortunado remains, not a drop to drink. The ultimate dinner-party humiliation.
“The Purloined Letter”
The C. Auguste Dupin trilogy (see, also: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget”) concludes with the French detective solving a blackmail scheme involving the queen, her lover, and the dastardly Minister D- (my grade in sophomore sophistry), who has absconded with correspondence between the pair. Police search for the letter, yet it eludes them. Dupin produces it and explains that the gendarmes tried too hard to find it. His scheme, however, was more cunning, if not convoluted. All he had to do was visit the minister in his room, and, wearing green glasses, spy the letter in a card rack. He returns the following day with a duplicate and swaps them out after first arranging a gunshot to distract the minister, as one does.
“The Fall of the House of Usher”
Into the Gothic breach we plummet when our narrator arrives at the estate of sickly friend Roderick Usher and his equally ill sister, Madeline. The house, however, is very much alive. In fact, it’s splitting in half, beginning with a cracked roof; the structure seems to be slowly expiring with its occupants (the Ushers are historically a doomed clan), its foundational stones crumbling, its ponds turning murky. Madeline allegedly dies; the two bury her in the tombs below the house. But she rises from her grave and kills Roderick. They die together, these final Ushers, and the house literally falls at last, one final crack tearing it apart.
“The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether”
Back to France we go, this time to an asylum overseen by a curious Monsieur Maillard and two unseen doctors with the unfortunate names of Tarr and Feather. Both are apparently practiced in a method called “soothing,” which they exercise on the patients. But who is mad here? Who is captive, and who is free? Can the monsieur’s odd stories be trusted? And what’s that strange, sudden clamor in the bowels of the institution?
“The Oblong Box”
The sea’s no mistress for certain passengers of the Independence, bound from Charleston, South Carolina, to New York. Cornelius Watt is aboard with his wife, two sisters, and a curious pine box hauling mysteriously fragrant cargo. Cornelius has an odd attachment to it too; when a hurricane hits the vessel, he refuses to leave the box behind, lashing himself to it and going down with the ship. Only the captain knows why.
“The Tell-Tale Heart”
Easily Poe’s most famous work, perhaps second to “The Raven,” “Heart” dives into the guilty psyche of its narrator, whose distaste for another man’s weird eye compels him to murder and conceal the offender’s body beneath the floorboards. But that eye proves to be the least of his concerns. The dead man’s heart thumps vibrantly, loudly, defiantly from its rest during a rather inconvenient meeting with police detectives investigating screams from the house. Boston magazine The Pioneer paid Poe $10 for the initial publication rights in 1842; 178 years later it remains a holiday staple of madness and morality.