by Sarah Sinoski
April 6-9, the Roanoke College Theater put on a production of Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe in the Olin theater.
“I’m hoping people don’t think, ‘This is Poe; we can’t laugh,’” said Bruce Partin, the director.
The four act play started with “The Raven”, Poe’s famous poem about a speaker who hears a rapping on his chamber door when suddenly in flies a raven. The act opened with the narrator writing at a desk illuminated by a flickering electric candle, when suddenly he hears a strange knocking at his door.
The actual poem begins to be read by several speakers one at a time in the background for effect. He hears the tapping again at his window and opens it, and in comes the raven. Terrified, our narrator asks the raven a series of questions and pleads for him to leave.
The raven, reimagined in a black steampunk plague-doctor revamp, replies with only one eerily echoed whisper, “Nevermore!” Our narrator collapses in a heap in a dead faint on the floor as the first act closed.
The second act is “The Pit and The Pendulum”, in which our protagonist is captured and put into a dark, rat-infested chamber by the Spanish Inquisition. After initial exploration, weariness overcomes our hero and he falls asleep only to wake up bound to a wooden table with just his left hand free.
He looks up with horror to see a picture of Father Time, in this iteration looking very much like a grim reaper with his razor sharp scythe swinging closer and closer to our narrator. He panics and at the last moment realizes he can rub some meat from the bowl beside him on his ropes and the rats will chew through them, freeing him.
Things only get worse from here, as he stumbles to a wall, only to find that they are glowing with heat and closing in on him, pushing him towards an ominous pit in the middle of the stage. At the last possible second, the walls stop and a voice calls out from above, “Stop! You are saved!” Our protagonist grins broadly when suddenly the light shuts off and silence reigns. The second act closes with a wail and an insane cackle.
The third act of the play was based on “The Fall of the House of Usher”.The acting was on point, managing to pull off a supremely creepy and unsettling Roderick Usher, who is slowly going insane in his childhood home while his sister is dying of illness. At last, the unnamed narrator can’t stand the horror of the home and escapes into the stormy night while the House of Usher cracks in two and crumbles to pieces, disappearing into the night.
The fourth and final act was “The Tell-Tale Heart”. This version had a comical twist, with slapstick humor contrasting the paranoia of the narrator. The narrator, afraid of the dead blue vulture eye of the kind old man he lives with, is driven to kill him and hide the body under the floorboards. After investigation by the police, he believes he hears the heart beating until he is driven to confess and is dragged away, wondering out loud why people thought he was insane, and the lights fade to a hysterical outburst of despairing laughter.