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By Mark Redfield
STUART GORDON: Yeah—‘cause I really started to feel like I was in the room with Poe. He was so believable. He wasn’t Jeffrey anymore. He was somebody else. And that somebody else I started to believe was Edgar Allan Poe.
STUART: It was actually inspired by my daughter. She teaches a course in English, and every year I come in around Halloween and talk to the class about Poe. I talk about his life and, one year that I came in, I read “The Black Cat” to the class. And it was absolutely terrifying. I had forgotten how strong that story was. And also, I realized that’s it’s never really been done on film…been done on film and television a million times, but they’ve never done it the way Poe wrote it.
So, I thought: wouldn’t it be cool to really do a faithful adaptation of the story? and then it struck me that you could make Poe the protagonist of the story, because the character sounds a lot like Poe. A guy who is very nice and loves his family and wife, but when he has too much to drink, he turns into another guy—he gets, you know, nasty—and he hurts people that he loves and (in the story) ultimately ends up killing his wife. It seemed like there was a lot of connections with this character and Poe. Poe’s drinking wasn’t all that secret…
STUART: Yeah, yeah—they’re always saying, “…he only needed one glass of wine to get drunk…”, you know, but the fact is that he definitely had a drinking problem.
STUART: Another thing about “The Black Cat” is that it has—he (Poe) gets into his, what he calls “the Imp of the Perverse”, which, I think, very much defines Poe as a person. You know, it’s the idea that just when everything is going really well, you have to screw it all up. And Poe did just that, over and over again in his life.
So, the idea of it came together very quickly and Jeffrey had been talking to me about wanting to play Poe. He’s been doing a lot of reading about Poe. One of the things he’d realized was that physically he’s very much like Poe. He’s about the same size Poe was. Even has the same color eyes. Everything just sort of came together. And we had the opportunity with Masters of Horror to do an hour-long show. And we could do anything we wanted. In other words, no censorship of any sort. So we could do the show the way he (Poe) wrote it, which is so disturbing, because it involves a great deal of animal cruelty, which I think is hard for an audience to watch.
STUART: I want to say it was a year or two later. It was right around, or before, Poe’s bicentennial anniversary, which I think was in…
STUART: 2009. Right. And that was when—that year—we thought this would be a great thing to do for his bicentennial. And so we started working on it. Dennis Paoli who wrote the script for “The Black Cat” got involved in shaping it into what became “Nevermore”.
STUART: No. I had never done a one-man show. One of the things I thought was interesting about this one, was—it really doesn’t feel like a one-man show because, you know, you have these other characters that are unseen. There’s Sarah Helen Whitman in the audience, who he (Poe) does a lot of the show for her…and we decided to set it in the period when he was courting her, and promised her that he would stop drinking. They were planning on getting married, and so the idea that she’s in the audience—it changes it. It kind of changes it from a typical “one-man show’ where they’re usually like “and then I wrote this, and then I wrote that”, and so on.
The idea that Poe would be drinking was something that came up fairly early on. That he would end up kind of wrecking the show…
STUART: Yeah, yeah, yeah
STUART: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
STUART: When we first started, the very first things that we did was -- Jeffrey would read the poems and stories that he really wanted to do. And Jeffrey learning them, and kind of working through them. That was the beginning of it all. Several months. It’s a long process. It took about six months. Jeffrey and I talked about Sarah Helen Whitman and we knew that she was going to be involved. We also looked up, as much as we could find, about his---these recitations, recitals, that he did, and the idea of the candle was inspired by one of the things we read where he would often-times do his recitals of poetry or what-have-you lit only by a single candle. And that, I thought, was great, because ---imagine what that was like! With the throwing of shadows on the walls and so forth. From that one source of light! That was incorporated very early on.
And we were working through it all, and we started talking to Dennis about how it would play. Dennis ended up writing it out—he teaches Gothic Literature and he is an expert on Poe—and he went out and found almost 90% of the material in the show. Things Poe actually said. Dennis was able to piece it all together.
STUART: You know, it was a tremendous amount of material for Jeffrey to memorize. It started with learning the poems, at first, the stories…then the “connective tissue” that Dennis gave…and we worked it through. As I said it’s a long process. I think it took six months.
Towards the end we were able to get the costume from “The Black Cat”. Mick Garris, who was one of the producers on Masters of Horror, helped with that and we got the costume and then Jeffrey knew some make-up guys who built the wig for him and we also got the nose. The nose that was used on “the Black Cat”—the molds for the (prosthetic) nose. And there was a question initially if we would use that (the nose), because it would involve having a make-up artist there every night. And we did a couple of performances, dress rehearsals, where he did not wear the nose, and you know it worked very well, and there was the question whether we should go further with it and finally decided we would, because, when he’s in that make-up—he looks exactly like Poe.
I felt like he—Poe—was just walking out onto that stage. Amazing for an audience.
STUART: I think that was actually—the accent was from “The Black Cat”. You know, he had done a lot of research about Poe and knew that he was raised in Virginia. That was something that he had all the way through (the accent).
STUART: I did. We did a play called “Poe”, which was about Poe’s death. And it was him—we sort of go into the mind of Poe as he’s passing out on the street. And it’s a mixture of his life and his stories. And it was very successful and we ended up doing it twice. The play is still being produced.
STUART: (laughs) Sure. Well, I’ve come from the theater. My background is fifteen years of theater before I ever made a movie, so theater is my first love and I always go back to it, and you know, doing “Re-Animator” as a musical was something that was suggested to me fairly soon after the movie came out. I kind of laughed at it and didn’t think it was possible, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it (the story) was really very contained and there’s only a handful of characters—why not? Why can’t it be a musical? And I met this wonderful composer, Mark Nutter, and his sensibility I thought, was perfect for---
I saw a show he did called “The Bicycle Men” and he’s got a terrific sense of humor and his music reminded me a lot of Tom Lehrer—you know his work?
STUART: Yeah! Exactly! He does these cheerful, twisted little songs, and that’s kind of what Mark is into, and is ideal for “Re-Animator”.
STUART: Well, we worked on adapting it for about two years. It took a long time. One of the things that was interesting was, it was done using the script from the film—and Mark Nutter started making a lot of scenes into pure music---it really turned into, well, I think it’s closer to an operetta than a musical, actually.
STUART: There’s a lot—I think 90% of it that is singing. Very little is just spoken word. So Mark’s able to turn those scenes into songs. It was great. Far more music that I ever imagined. I remember sitting down and putting a list together where I thought songs could go, and he did that plus three times as many songs as I imagined!
STUART: We actually did several readings of it, before we mounted it on stage. And we did make changes as we were going along. And it’s still going through changes with this newest incarnation in 2014. It’s got several new songs and if you see it again it’ll be different from the one you saw in New York.
STUART: (laughing) Yeah, it’s become my middle name, actually.
STUART: That’s right...
STUART: (laughs) True!
STUART: Well, I think it would be absurd and crazy for an actor to try to imitate, exactly, the movie. I think an actor has to be himself, and so, Graham Skipper, who plays Herbert West, is a huge fan of Jeffrey’s work, and has seen the movie dozens of times, but he’s made it his own. He does it differently than Jeffrey did. And that’s how it should be. As you know, being an actor, you have to start with yourself to play a part.
STUART: --“this is happening to me”--
STUART: Oh, yeah. It’s true. Herbert West is driven. He never sits down. (laughs).
STUART: Oh, yeah—George is actually going to be doing the show. Hopefully he’ll be coming into the production later on. One of the things that’s going to be happening is that we’re taking the show to Las Vegas the beginning of next year (2015).
STUART: George is going to be joining us there, for that production.
STUART (laughing): It’s possible! You know, what’s interesting to me was that when we did the play we had families bringing their kids to it—not little kids of course, but teenagers, and they all loved it! I never thought of “Re-Animator” as a family show, but it turned out that it was. It has really something for all ages. That was really unexpected about it.
STUART: That’s our ultimate goal. We would love to bring it back to New York.