Why is a raven like a bistro table?
“An Evening with Edgar Allen Poe,” a culinary experiment, closes this weekend
October 26, 2023
When I first arrived, I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place. I had expected a blinking neon sign flashing GYROS! GYROS! But the building my maps app had directed me to was a simple, nondescript brick mixed-use commercial building in downtown Longview. There was no one else parked nearby. I decided to look around. No sign. No one walking by. My uncertainty grew.
Then, perched ominously behind the tempered glass double doors opening onto the intersection, I saw a lanky individual, shrouded in a black cloak, and sporting a plague doctor’s mask.
Ah, sweet relief. I had reached my destination.
In the basement of the Bowers Building, on Commerce Street, a Mediterranean restaurant, Gyros Gyros, has been transformed into the gentleman Montresor’s wine cellar. We, the audience, are his guests for an evening of wine, snacks, and storytelling.
But from the first moment of my arrival, there were signs that something was off about my host and his staff. Draped in black cloaks, the staff moved around silently. The maitre D was warm and welcoming as he ushered audience members in with familiar greetings of “Good to see you again,” and “Very good,” but later uttered a sharp “This way!” A near-hysterical young woman burst out of the main doors. Her master would be very upset, we were told, if anyone’s cell phone went off during the performance. The somewhat nervous chatter of the audience, which had been seated in a bistro area outside of the main restaurant, was interrupted by a sudden, piercing wail of despair; a drunken man in a jester’s cap, a Carnival reveler, mumbles, sobs and snickers as he stumbles down the stairs.
After these initial “introductions” we were ushered individually into the cellars of the Montresor estate (the restaurant itself).
As I followed an attendant (lackey? minion? slave?) to my table, I looked around. My sense of uncertainty grew. The walls and pillars were adorned with shiny bronze plates, but in the corner lay a pile of old bones. To my right, a small performance area lay framed by delicate silk curtains. To my left lay a tomb-like structure made of crumbling brickwork.
The guests were seated individually at our tables, with ample (if somewhat randomly themed) presentations of snacks–salamis, cheese, Chex mix, candy corn.
“An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe” – which closes this weekend – features three pieces by the poet and short-story writer. The first, the “Cask of Amontillado,” featuring our host, the murderous Montresor, actually serves as the last. (When we meet Montresor, he informs us that we will be regaled with some entertainment before the main event commences: only at the end of the evening will his story proceed.) This sets up a dynamic that is one of director Andrea Horton’s most exciting choices. Because we are “guests” of Montresor, seated comfortably with our wine and snacks, we are more than witnesses to his ensuing crime. We are participants–possible accomplices, or potential victims.
The first of the two entertainments is Poe’s most famous work, “The Raven,” which is delivered by the soulful Shelley Jacobs, in the throes of heartache for her lost “Lenore.” Jacobs moves with a dancer’s confidence, and has a resonant, velvety voice. I felt Jacobs and Horton missed out on some of the potential grim comedy of the piece; Jacobs is earnest to the core, but Poe suggests some levity in the character of the speaker. Despite this, the atmosphere they conjured up was admirably thick and compelling.
The centerpiece of the evening, Poe’s little-known “Ligeia,” about the death and resurrection of a beautiful young woman, features I think the evening’s strongest performance, by the engrossing William Brauné, an actor who immediately connects to his audience. He puts an audience at ease, which is valuable in such an intimate setting (though some in the audience did wince when, at the climax of “Ligeia,” he let out a wail of pain that looked like it was pitched directly into his scene-partner’s ear).
Horton has a keen sense for orchestrating moments that are both subtle and sharp–an actor flinging a pile of bones on the ground, a vivid play of light on a curtain, the snuffing out of a candle.
Her skills seem suited to traditional theater, and in fact the area most lacking in clarity for me was the immersive and culinary element. The food didn’t seem directly linked to performance, or the restaurant itself. This struck me as a missed opportunity; a connection either to the location of the action of “The Cask of Amontillado,” which takes place in Italy during Carnival, or more directly to the restaurant itself, would, I think, have held everything together and created an evening of fully immersive horror theater.
An Evening with Edgar Allen Poe. Sat. Oct. 28, and Sun. Oct. 29. 7:30 p.m. at Gyros Gyros. 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.