By Clay Evans
Reprinted from CU Arts & Sciences Magazine
Four travelers flee to the mountains to escape a terrible plague — a Red Death. There they meet at an ancient, crumbling abbey and begin to share tales of mystery and imagination to pass the time.
A man plots deadly revenge against a friend he believes has betrayed him; hearing the beating of his victim’s heart, a murderer cannot bear the guilt of his crime; a prisoner awaits the awful torture of the Spanish Inquisition; a mansion tumbles into ruin from the weight of fear, madness and murder….
That intriguing mash-up of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous suspenseful stories is at the heart of University of Colorado Boulder theatre graduate student Hadley Kamminga-Peck’s new stage adaptation, “Tick, Tock, Poe,” which has been playing at schools and community centers this spring.
The program includes a 50-minute performance with CU-Boulder students Cole Cribari, Tucker Johnston, James Miller and Stacey Ryan and workshops focusing on Poe’s life, the creation of music for theatre, stage combat vs. real-life violence and the cycle of vengeance at the center of “The Cask of Amontillado.”
“I adapted the five Poe stories with a lot of help from the cast,” Kamminga-Peck says. “We really focused on what middle- and high-school students would understand.”
The production’s roots go all the way back to 2011, when Kamminga-Peck contacted local teachers via email to get a sense of what students might enjoy. They chose Poe — grisly and spooky as the stories are — over H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” and “Cyrano.”
“The set is definitely melancholy Victorian age, all gloom and doom,” she says. “But we’ve found some humor, too.”
For instance, there are flourishes of humor even in the grim “Tell-tale Heart” and while it’s not the sort of thing one might expect from Poe, the action is accompanied by music played on a ukulele. The instrument turns out to be a surprising fit, managing to sound both eerie and, at times, comical.
The show also plays “The Fall of the House of Usher” — the creepy tale of a man who has inadvertently killed his sister — for laughs.
“Roderick (Usher) is basically dying of emo” — the sort of overwrought melodrama sometimes attributed to teenagers — “and it’s hard not to make that funny,” Kamminga-Peck says.
The cast has fully embraced both the drama and the comedy.
“Wait – is this a show?” asked Tucker Johnson as he strummed a ukulele during one recent rehearsal. “I thought it was a cast party.”
The play features period costumes, a simple set — basically a trunk — and just a few props. But there is plenty of action, including some vigorous onstage fighting choreographed by Kamminga-Peck.
“We’ve had great responses from teachers,” she says. “They tell us what an inventive way it is to teach literature and violence prevention.”
“Tick, Tock, Poe” will continue to tour through the end of the spring semester. Anyone interested in scheduling a performance at a school, community center or senior center can contact Peg Posnick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-492-4336. The program is supported by a CU-Boulder Outreach Award through the Office for University Outreach.