“What do critics know?” asks a character in The Fall of the House of Usher. A fair question, indeed.
This one knows he enjoyed the North Pulaski High School production of the play based on Edgar Allan Poe’s story.
Director Jane Morgan Balgavy makes a welcome return to helming stage productions with this outing. She ensures that her actors make the most of their characters as well as have a fun time on stage. It is obvious that she has built a supportive atmosphere for these performers.
Trenten Palsa plays the beleaguered master of the house at the center of the story. Through his voice, carriage and gestures, he ably conveys the torment being felt by his character. But he also is able to let his guard down for brief moments of happiness with two long-time friends. Palsa ensures that his character really does seem troubled and in danger. He never whines; instead he cries out in anguish and frustration.
Clay Bures plays a mysterious character known in the program as The Stranger. He is at times a narrator, a protagonist, and a cipher. Bures manages to be both congenial and aloof. Playing a character with a touch of the poet in him, Bures develops an almost mystical presence during his moments as narrator/commentator.
Many in the cast have their own moments to shine. Taylor Lackey plays an actor of dubious talent and undoubtable self-confidence. He deftly handles some wonderful lines and provides comic relief. Leeann Clark, Jeriah Brumfield and John Cullen play staff at a tavern. The trio have wonderful chemistry with each other as well as with the other denizens of the tavern. Along with Dakota Hillman, they also play puzzling characters who are not human and may, or may not exist. In this capacity, the quartet lend a menacing gravitas to the proceedings.
Kayley Shettles and Mallory Harness play two women in the life of Palsa’s Roderick Usher. Shettles is the long-suffering Lady Madelaine while Harness is the disappointed and yet loving Lenore. Each young lady makes the most of her part in pivotal moments of the play. Josh Buchan does a good job playing the vexed doctor trying to aid the Usher family. Valentino Warren is the Usher’s butler who is at times officious, and at times gossipy. He mines much humor from the role, often with just a gesture or a simple inflection. Asylzat Baktybekova is the Usher’s housekeeper. She not only serves to share much information (which is often the role of maids in plays), but is a good sidekick and foil for Warren in many scenes.
Rounding out the cast are Ryan Whittington, who is appropriately menacing as a shadowing figure; Hunter Brockinton, who has a delightful French accent and portrays an enigmatic wayfarer; and Chyna Loftis, Maria Gamez-Balleza, & Serena White. The latter trio play theatrical dancers who reside at the tavern. They delightfully tease others at the tavern and provide additional comic relief.
This adaptation of Poe’s story also employs many references to other Poe characters and stories. After seeing this enjoyable play, I want to go back and re-read some other Poe stories to see what else I missed.
The cast and crew (who worked hard behind the scenes) are to be commended for The Fall of the House of Usher. They created a story that was appropriately eerie without being too scary. That is what Poe set out to do in his writings.