Madness, revenge, and finger food
A Longview eatery expands in a dramatic way
October 19, 2023
At first glance, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe might not readily lend themselves to dinner theater. The tales depict decomposing bodies, decapitation, torture, and disease. They conjure unsavory sites, smells, and sounds. In one story, a young man exhumes the body of his fiancee (who has been buried alive) and pulls out all of her teeth. More famously, in "The Tell-tale Heart," a mysterious narrator kills and dismembers an old man, before burying his remains under the floor-boards. Bon appétit.
But Andrea Horton and her team at Gyros Gyros, a mediterranean restaurant in Longview, are testing the assumption that Poe might be better suited for performance in a crypt than a cafe. The well-established eatery is embarking on a new double life as a performing arts venue, and will launch the new endeavor with a two-weekend run of three of Poe's terrifying tales, entitled "An Evening with Edgar Allen Poe," just in time for peak Halloween season.
In the first of these tales, the well-known "Cask of Amontillado," the vengeful Montresor invites an old friend to the catacombs beneath his home to sample a rare wine. The drunken friend agrees to the journey below, at his peril, and to his increasing dismay (for reasons I will leave to the actors to convey).
Horton's company, Magpie Productions, has transformed the restaurant's dining room into Montresor's wine cellars. Audience members will be welcomed as guests to the Montresor estate.
For actor Shelley Jacobs, it's a thrilling proposition.
"It's Poe like you've never experienced it before," she told me. "To be in the wine cellar, with actors moving among you, very intimate."
Jacobs, who relocated to the Pacific Northwest after running a theater in Salida, Colorado, will enact Poe's most famous work, "The Raven," a riveting poem about a man who goes mad after being visited by a very repetitive bird.
And Poe's lesser-known tale, "Ligeia," rounds out the program.
The transition from restaurant to immersive dinner theater was born, like so many recent career innovations, out of the covid pandemic. Like many of us, Horton and her husband and co-owner, Chris, used the lockdown as an opportunity to reassess.
"We'd been closed for two years," she said.
The Hortons acknowledged that restaurants would likely continue to struggle in the post-pandemic economy.
"We have this huge space," she remembers saying. "We should do something fun with it." Relying on the wisdom Andrea had cultivated during several years as a board member and producer with Stageworks Northwest Theatre, they decided to take a chance.
"We'll see if people are into art after the pandemic," she said.
But if Horton is at all uncertain about the future of the series, her actions reveal an admirable confidence: she's already planned an entire season of offerings. Next up, Edward Albee's "Zoo Story" in January.
An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe. Sat. Oct. 21, Sun. Oct. 22, Sat. Oct. 28, and Sun. Oct. 29. 7:30 p.m. Tickets $38-50. Available at the Gyros Gyros counter W-Th 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., or online at gyros-gyros.square.site. Located at the Bowers Building at 1138 Commerce Ave #G (in the basement), Longview.