The Cal State San Bernardino theatre arts department is currently staging the production of “The Twist and Turns of Edgar Allan Poe” by Carol Damgen, which opened Nov. 29.
One of the most prolific writers of the 19th century, Edgar Allan Poe was a true master of mystery. On Oct. 7, 1849, Poe died without warning or cause — all medical records and official documents lost to time — leaving us with his biggest mystery of all: How did he die? Was it illness or old age? Did he lose his mind? Or was there something more sinister at play?
One-hundred-sixty years later, Poe’s words continue to haunt us, and we must travel back in time to uncover the truth. Drawing from “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Raven,” “Some Words with a Mummy” and more, this fresh take uses music and song to explore the secrecy surrounding Poe’s death.
Initially set in the drawing room of Poe’s house, a narrator, played by CSUSB theatre arts major Manuel Elenes, of Fontana, guides the play as it ephemerally shifts its way through the adventures of a young Edgar, who is played by CSUSB music major Aaron Molina, also of Fontana, and his characters. These shifts — and indeed Poe’s stories – begin to alter as Poe ages and is forced to confront the realities and challenges of his personal life and career. A multi-talented ensemble, including Carlos Balisquide and Adrian Valadez, both of Riverside; Caitlin Casian, of Phelan; Barbara Curic-Miles, originally from Croatia; and Hannah Lake, of San Bernardino inhabit the roles of Poe’s family members and short story characters.
“I wanted to figure out what made Edgar Allan Poe tick. Who was he?” asks Damgen, who is a lecturer in the CSUSB theatre arts department and a CSUSB alumna, who penned the play as a wholly encompassing work of art — including a live violinist, CSUSB math major Joel Weber, and performers doubling as Foley artists. “Twist and Turns” will portray Poe as more than just a man of mystery and macabre, but as a human being who wanted a sense of belonging. “You can hear it in his writing,” says Damgen. “He so desperately wanted his family, his public and his critics to love him. Sadly, that wasn’t always the case.”
In the production’s own unique “twist and turn,” Damgen is not only the author of the play, but is also the director. “It’s a fantastic predicament,” says Damgen about the dual role. “Sometimes it can be complicated … [but] this is a collaborative piece. And as the director, I get to honor my words and Poe’s [words], and also be a part of the process.”
In addition to performances at CSUSB, “Twists and Turns” will tour the Inland Empire during November. Visiting middle schools, high schools and libraries, the show will be a California State Educational Standards-based supplement to classroom learning. Damgen’s hope is that the production will bring Poe’s works to life and provoke students to explore the rest of Poe’s writings, and the canons of other literary greats, as well.
“The Twists and Turns of Edgar Allan Poe” opens Thursday, Nov. 29, and runs for five performances, closing on Sunday, Dec. 2. Performances begin at 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
The production is in the Ronald E. Barnes Theatre on the CSUSB campus.
Tickets are $15 for general admission; $12 for senior citizens, military, and non-CSUSB students; and $6 for CSUSB students (with valid ID).
For tickets and information, call (909) 537-5884 or visit the CSUSB theatre department website.