Mark Sanders as Poe!
Could Sanders please be invited to recite “The Raven" at a Ravens game? He deserves an M&T Bank stadium-sized audience.
Sanders, long a fixture on the Baltimore poetry scene, cleverly weaves Poe’s masterful poem throughout the play. As he did, I realized that The Raven is not a schlocky poem for school kids, it’s only—and unfortunately—been taught that way.
Sanders wrings all of the emotion from the poem, using the 1845 narrative gem as the spine for his one-man show.
Bring your hankies. In this wrenching one-man, three-act performance, Sanders does not concentrate on the macabre or horror in Poe’s tales, but rather the pain caused the writer by the loss of Virginia Clemm, his young bride, the beloved “Sissy.”
Many poems, several referenced by Sanders on stage, were born of that death.
The Conqueror Worm is horrific enough and Poe is clearly trying to refine his pain at his bride’s tubercular and consumptive bleeding—described as a breaking in the throat—into art and beauty.
Similarly, Annabel Lee still seems over-the-top campy, but it also roars with power via Sanders. Poe does a lot with interior rhymes and has a sense of musical cadence building that is impressive, not just jingly.
Sanders relies on Poe's work and letters to him by such notables as Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne to tell the story of the poet’s life. He is constantly snatching sheets of paper from a pile of books in a study on the stage, using them to recite To Helen, The Haunted Palace, and a list of his accomplishments to refute the notion that he was an idle alcoholic.
Sanders contrasts a life of voluminous sadness with Poe's somewhat stilted attempts at humor. We see Poe poking fun at his most famous work, at one point chuckling: “A talking bird!”
On opening night, this elicited a chuckle in response from famed Baltimore Poe interpreter David Keltz, who attended the opening.
The reason for this event is a reflection on our times and in no way funny.
The Poe House, a museum at 203 Amity St. near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, celebrates Poe’s life and work. Because of budget cuts by Baltimore City, which owns it, the national historic landmark is in danger of closing to the public.
The performance will be repeated on the evenings of Oct. 14, 15 and 21. Proceeds from the $10 admission will benefit “Pennies for Poe,” a local campaign to keep the Poe House open.
The venue is Area 405 on Oliver Street just west of the Greenmount Cemetery, often erroneously thought to be Poe’s final resting place (John Wilkes Booth is there, Poe lies at Westminster Churchyard, Fayette and Greene Streets.)
The theater, an old window blind factory built about the time of Poe’s death 162 years ago, is the perfect setting for this show, with trains spookily rumbling through nearby tunnels as Sanders pushes on through Poe’s life.
About today’s Book Page correspondent: The poet, David Eberhardt, 70, is retired after a 33-year career as a social worker at the Baltimore City Jail. In 1967, he poured blood on Selective Service draft files with the Berrigan Brothers to protest the Vietnam War. He is the author of two books of poetry and recently immersed himself in the new Malick film, Tree of Life.