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INTERVIEW: Bay Street Theater Associate Artistic Director Will Pomerantz On "Awake At Night: Modern Takes On Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe"

T.J. Clemente

Bay Street is presenting Awake at Night: Modern Takes on Stories of Edgar Allan Poe,, a special Halloween virtual staged reading. (Courtesy Photo)

In a conversation with Will Pomerantz about Awake at Night: Modern Takes on Stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the Bay Street Theater Associate Artistic Director's enthusiasm was contagious. The virtual reading will premiere on Tuesday, October 20 at 8:00 p.m.

Pomerantz explained, "The genesis of Awake at Night was that [Bay Street Theater Artistic Director] Scott Schwartz and I thought it would be fun to have some sort of programming that would be around Halloween and kind of celebrate that energy that's around at Halloween practically - since so much of the regular activities have been truncated and we can't do this year, like the usual trick-or-treating and the usual traditional Halloween activities."

He noted, "[The program] came out of that desire to serve something up to the community that was in that spirit. I started thinking about writers, and of course, Edgar Allan Poe came to mind as a possible source. I have done a fair number of literary adaptations, but I never really worked with Poe before. I went back and I ordered a complete works of Edgar Allan Poe and had it sent to me. He has written a ton of stories, and of course, he is also a poet, and he was also a literary critic, he did a lot of writing. He died at age 40, but got a lot of work done."

Pomerantz pointed out Awake at Night would consist of his adaption of three Poe iconic thrillers, but placing them in modern settings. He shared, "We all know of him as the creator of the detective story, creating a detective named Dupin, who is really the forerunner to Sherlock Holmes. So, I looked at some of those crime stories, but none were really appropriate."

So, what was? "Poe did not do stories of actual violence; he did stories of a highly intellectual nature, such as asking what is the human soul and uses that idea when he gets to the plot. Again, these were too difficult to dramatize, so I landed on three stories - two of which are quite famous and one that is less well known."

The first story he chose to do a modern adaptation of is The Cask of Amontillado. Pomerantz said he remembered reading it perhaps in middle school or high school. He noted, "It's this classic Edgar Allan Poe image, which is one man bricking up another man behind a wall and thus murdering him. Interestingly in that story Poe never gives you the motive of why one man does this to another man. This was something that I was curious about, so in our version you do have a motive - because I think audiences today would want that, to know why would somebody do that. I really wanted to make them all modern day, so the language was modern and the situations were all recognizable, because Poe's language is archaic now." Pomerantz dubbed this adaptation, A Case of Romanee Conti. In his adaptation, it is an old programmer who finds an old boss at a vineyard in the Napa Valley.

The second, The Fall of the House of Usher, Pomerantz selected because it was "quite an interesting story, but also mysterious and you don't know exactly what is exactly happening. Is it supernatural, is it not? Is it a decay of a long line of a distinguished family in England?" The adaptation is called 812 East 9th Street and it takes place in New York City in "a crumbling brownstone instead of an English country manor house." It is billed as a young man who records his visit with an old friend.

The final adaptation, Through My Flesh, is based on the Poe's Ligeia and it's now the story of a soon-to-be retired professor who elucidates a tragic and mysterious situation in Istanbul many years ago. Just hearing Pomerantz weave together how he changed the plot around to make it modern is fascinating, fascinating enough to make one want to see the whole program.

Making appearances across the three plays will be six actors from the stage and screen: Ari Brand, Daniel Gerroll, Loren Lester, Michael Levi Harris, Kevin Orton, and Teal Wicks.

Tickets are $20. Following the premiere, there will be a live talkback between Pomerantz and the cast held via Zoom.

For more information, visit www.baystreet.org.

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