Now we know how Edgar Allan Poe came to write all those creepy poems and tales from the crypt: His perspective was, shall we say, a bit off-kilter, and he was continually haunted by the women in his life. Or so it would appear from “Nevermore,” an exceedingly gloomy musical about the author debuting at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Va.
Oh, those women. They’re apparitions, really, and they incessantly stalk Derek McLane’s macabre set even as the audience files in, pausing to stare at a patron or let loose a hideous cackle like those from scary movies based on the works of, say, Edgar Allan Poe.
Once the show begins, they mainly scold and harass poor Eddie about his failings, which seem to be numerous, and then burst into song with lyrics from his many poems that may or may not relate to the discussion at hand. It’s no wonder he was confused, yearned for friendlier climes and struggled with relationships.
Poe’s tormented life is grist for “Nevermore,” a one-act tuner commissioned by Signature and staged in ghostly kitsch by the theater’s a.d., Eric Schaeffer. The six-person cast is headed by Broadway veterans Florence Lacey, Jacquelyn Piro and Daniel Cooney.
The book by Grace Barnes focuses within one disjointed dream on Poe’s quirky relationships with the women who influenced his brief life. They include his mother (Lacey), who died when he was only 2, and his first love, Elmira (Piro). Cooney as the earnest but self-absorbed writer defends himself from the duo’s often tedious entreaties, all tackled with humorless conviction.
Channez McQuay is believable as the aunt and mother-in-law, but Lauren Williams stumbles as the insufferably impetuous 13-year-old cousin and bride, Virginia.
Matt Connor’s pleasing but unmemorable score offers some nice opportunities for the strong voices in this cast. The evening’s loftiest moments are the company’s spirited assaults on Poe’s two most famous poems, “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven,” while a number built around the poem “El Dorado” spices up the early goings with Amy McWilliams as the whore.
Jenn Miller’s period costumes are appropriately ghoulish, especially as enhanced by Mark Lanks’ eerie lighting.
“Nevermore” is a noble attempt to illuminate one of America’s more enigmatic literary figures, but it never really delivers. The deadly serious production simply labors along, mired in the chronic but not especially riveting problems of the famous author.