March 7, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe tale inspires play


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Playwright Lisa D’Amour’s catalog led Kim Hartshorn to the modern-stage noir “Red Death” opening tonight at Hartman Theatre.

“I have been looking for a medium-sized play and something new,” said Hartshorn, the director. “I was interested in a play called ‘Detroit,’ personally, because I’m from Detroit. It had gotten some press. It’s a pretty new play.”

He read “Detroit,” but it did not have a large enough cast.

“I liked the play. It wasn’t the right choice for various reasons. I liked the playwright. I looked at some other plays she had done,” Hartshorn said.

D’Amour’s “Red Death” was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”

Protagonist Jane Whithers, a kindergarten teacher and lifeguard, embarks on a self-imposed existential quest for Prospero Albright, a childhood acquaintance, and the origins of hate, the root of denial and human weakness that causes fear of death.

Through a global-trekking haze — life rafts, spiked cocktails and underground-dance clubs — she searches for Albright to unlock childhood secrets and her perilous present.

“It was really kind of a different play,” Hartshorn said. “It was intriguing. It was unusual.

“We had some other people in the department look at the play and see what their thoughts were on it. Several of the other faculty read it and thought it was kind of interesting, too, so we decided to do it.”

The cast stars Meagan Juntunen (Jane Albright), William Simon (Prospero), Evan Fazziola (Detective), JulieAnna Arey (Connie Albright, the wife of Prospero), Cassidy Herman (Lucinda Albright, daughter), Michael Stewart (Mr. Whithers, Jane’s father) and Kendall Tamer (Hilda).

Set and light design is by Erika Grayson.

“The plot is a little odd,” Hartshorn said.

In Poe’s short story, Prince Prospero retires away from a deadly and bloody plague depopulating his kingdom to a magnificent abbey with seven luxurious apartments.

“Red Death” has seven scenes and elements from Poe’s tale.

“If you were going to describe it, it’s part comedy, part drama, part existential thriller,” Hartshorn said. “It’s stage noir, a stage version of film noir.

“Jane grew up in a normal existence and became aware she was part of something bigger, and the story evolves around her larger mission.”

Set in modern day, the play’s aesthetics were a challenge.

“The style of play is a little tricky to get the right balance between stage noir, comedy and drama,” Hartshorn said. “It’s one of the things that makes it an interesting play to tackle. It does not demand a realistic approach. It’s more of a stylized approach.”

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IF YOU GO WHAT: "Red Death" directed by Kim Hartshorn. WHEN: 7 tonight through Sunday. WHERE: Hartman Theatre, Myers Fine Arts Building, SUNY Plattsburgh. ADMISSION: $10 general admission; $8 seniors, students and faculty/staff; and $2 college students. Today's performance is buy-one get-one free at the door. CONTACT: Stephanie Pfaff at 564-2243.