by Lynn on April 16, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person, at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, Queen St. E., Toronto, Ont. Produced by the Eldritch Theatre.  Running until April 21.

Written by Michael O’Brien and Eric Woolfe

Designed by Melanie McNeill

Music by Cathy Nosaty

Cast: Mairi Babb

Eric Woolfe

The House at Poe Corner is ghoulish theatre. It is based on the works and world of Edgar Allan Poe, but with a twist.

The press information should give you a taste of what’s in store:

“Celebrating the 10th deathiversary and woeful return of Eldritch Theatre’s dreadfully dour kindergoth Masterpiece. Welcome back to the Grim Woodland of Weir, where the terrifying tales of Edgar Allan Poe are performed in petrifying perpetuity by twisted little toys that bear a striking yet non-copyright infringing resemblance to a certain ‘stuffy old bear” and his forest-dwelling companions.

Narrated by two lost souls, Edgar (Eric Woolfe) and Allan (Mairi Babb), and performed by a creepy cabal of table top puppets, aided with some truly horrifying parlour magic, these chilling fables are sure to send audiences into paroxysms of despair, madness and mirth. Dedicated to the dead child in all of us.”

Let me translate that by way of explanation. This is the 10th anniversary of this show, and the first time I’m seeing it. The show is written by Michael O’Brien and Eric Woolfe. Mr. Woolfe acts in it playing Edgar, does the magic tricks and has created and manipulates the puppets along with Mairi Babb. They use the background of Edgar Allan Poe and his eerie stories as the basis of this, but I don’t think the exact references are as important as the wild imagination, that would use animal puppets as the characters. There is a reference to Mr. Usher’s house and various horrors to set us up.

The hero is Poe Bear who bears (sorry) a close resemblance to a certain teddy bear of note in literature, but I won’t swear to it, and the various adventures he gets into.  Poe Bear has a friend named Cutlet who looks like a toy cow in puppet form. There is Jack Hare, again a bunny or hare in puppet form—thin, long ears, excitable.

Many of these puppets kill other puppets. They pounce on them, and seem to hack them up resulting in red feathers flying all over the place. There is a narwal that is mysterious and a cast of characters that makes one dizzy keeping track of them all. And magic tricks on top of it all.

How does magic factor into a horror puppet show? It’s a show by and with Eric Woolfe. He’s a master puppeteer and magician so he combines the two. He just brings in a magic trick. Things appear and disappear with ease and amazement. For example, he presentes three little empty amber cups that he turns upside down. Then he puts a little red ball on top of each cup.

Then he took the ball off each cup, lifted each cup and there was a red ball under each one where there was nothing before. I have long since given up trying to figure out how he does it. I take it on faith that it’s magic.

The pace is fast and furious. The acting is urgent and serious. Eric Woolfe plays Edgar. He has dark shadows under his eyes suggesting sleepless nights of worry and mayhem. He wears a wig of full, unkept hair and a mustache. Mairi Babb plays Allan with an equally full wig of unkept hair and a mustache. Together they manipulate the puppets with dexterity. They both sing original songs by Cathy Nosaty. The wild set and high counter on which to plop the puppets is designed by Melanie McNeill. Both Eric Woolfe and Mairi Babb work in smooth tandem creating an effortless show of fraught situations.

And the puppets are a collection of large eyed imaginative creations along with stories more ghoulish than the next. The idea of chopping up a character is horrifying. But then the red feathers go flying all over the place and bits and pieces are hurled on the floor and it’s hilarious.

The Eldritch Theatre presents:

Playing until April 21, 2024.

Running time: 90 minutes, (no intermission)

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