|Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe Lives on in Duffy Hudson’s In the Shadow of the Raven, November 5 at the Moline Public Library|
|Theatre - Feature Stories|
|Written by Mike Schulz|
|Monday, 26 October 2009 06:00|
"It must have been around Halloween," recalls actor/playwright Duffy Hudson. "I was nine, and my father came into my room and started reading 'The Raven' to me. And I remember thinking, 'What the heck is this story about? What's this bird doing in this guy's room? And who is Lenore?'
"But instinctively, I knew that it was cool," says Hudson of Edgar Allan Poe's chilling poem. "The way my father read it, it was so ... . It was just so alive. And then my father said, 'Why don't we memorize this, and we'll perform it for the family?' And I thought, 'Okay, how cool would that be?'"
That reading, says Hudson, "never really materialized. But certainly the interest in Poe was sparked," and over the past seven years, the Los Angeles-based performer and Broadway veteran has reveled in the author's coolness on hundreds of occasions with his one-man touring presentation In the Shadow of the Raven.
Hudson will present this 50-minute production at the Moline Public Library on November 5, in an evening that includes dramatic interpretations of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and, yes, "The Raven." But in his role as Poe, Hudson also delivers an informative theatrical autobiography, providing understanding of and empathy for a man the show's creator calls "an amazing human being in just really, really sad circumstances. He was just plagued by loss. Loss and rejection."
As Hudson demonstrates in In the Shadow of the Raven, the American writer's brief, troubled life was echoed in his acclaimed fiction, with Poe - much like characters in his haunting poetry and short stories - enduring the pain of childhood neglect and the traumatizing deaths of many loved ones, among them many beautiful women. And when you add Poe's suffering at the hands of foster father John Allan, his struggles for professional credibility, his discharge from the Army, his bouts with alcoholism and disease, and his mysterious death at age 40, Hudson says that the author's history - combined with his lasting literary accomplishments - makes him a most compelling figure for audiences.
"It's not that people who have well-adjusted lives aren't interesting," says Hudson during a recent interview. "It's that the expression of a well-adjusted life doesn't titillate us as much as the expression of a tormented life. It's that torture that we're attracted to. And Poe was a man that had a very direct, a very clear pipeline to who he was. He had a way to connect, deeply, to his sorrow, to those feelings of abandonment, and to express them eloquently."
To hear Hudson tell it, the road to writing and performing In the Shadow of the Raven was as unusual as one of Edgar Allan Poe's own stories - specifically "The Tell-Tale Heart," in which the sound of a murder victim's still-beating heart incessantly taunts Poe's protagonist. Happily for Hudson, though, his taunting was far less macabre.
"I was approached by an organization that books performances," he says, "and for whatever reason - I got on a mailing list or something - they assumed that I had a one-man show, and they sent me an offer to book me throughout several states. And I was like, 'Wow, that's interesting,' but I threw the offer away, because I thought, 'Well, I don't have a one-person show.'"
The missive, however, "landed in the trashcan face up, and every time I walked past the kitchen, it was just looking at me.
"So the first time I walked past it," Hudson continues, "I thought, 'Hmm. If I did have a one-man show, what would it be?' And the second time I walked past it, I thought, 'If I had one, it would be Poe. I think I'd do Poe.' Then I walked by it again, and I noticed that it said, 'Your show should be 45 minutes to an hour.' And I knew 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' which is my favorite story, would take me 20 minutes to do, and 'The Raven' - 'cause you'd have to do 'The Raven' - would take 10 minutes. And I realized, 'Wait a minute. That's half the show. Let's put a little effort into this and see what I can come up with.'"
Through biographical research, the reading of many of Poe's letters, and renewed familiarity with the author's fiction, Hudson assembled a first-person narrative that found room for the delivery of the author's most notable pieces while also providing valuable character insight.
"Poe was a consummate gentleman," Hudson says, "the first person to stand up when a lady entered the room, always had a joke or a good story to tell, very friendly. But because he was so smart, he was off-putting to a lot of people. I would imagine in the same party where he's charming a handful of people, other people are feeling incredibly insecure. So he was a polarizing figure in that way."
He was also a deeply troubled figure. "I knew that what had to be included was the sense of loss," says Hudson, in explaining which elements of Poe's life would feature in In the Shadow of the Raven. "And so I had to skim across his life, and explain the loss of the people that he loved in his family, and the disintegration of his family. And that led me, basically, to having Poe discuss the women in his life that he lost," including mother Elizabeth and wife Victoria, "and the battles that he had with John Allan."
As the performance calls for Poe to explore and share deep levels of grief, resentment, and fury, Hudson says that In the Shadow of the Raven - which its author has performed publicly more than 150 times in 2009 alone - is a considerable emotional challenge. He adds, though, that it's also a tricky feat in terms of the presentation of the two Poe pieces that are performed in their entirety.
"They're both very complicated to memorize in terms of the repetition of certain phrases," he says. "There are 19 stanzas in 'The Raven,' for instance, and every one ends with something that rhymes with 'Lenore' or 'Nevermore' or 'More,' and it's easy to get kind of caught in a little loop, and then you find yourself at the beginning of the poem again. You're like, 'Wa-a-ait a minute ... .'"
He laughs. "It becomes the poem that never ends."
Yet Hudson relishes the chance to bring so many of Poe's diverse qualities - his darker and lighter sides - to audiences. "You know, it's juggling," he says of his Poe channeling (scenes from which can be found on DuffyHudson.com). "You try to get as many balls in the air at once as you can. But you can't hold them all up in the air at the same time, so sometimes you let a little of his charm out, you find another moment when his sorrow comes out, you find another moment when his humor comes out."
And despite the presentation's bleakness, Poe's humor is most definitely in evidence in In the Shadow of the Raven, as demonstrated when Hudson details Poe's upbringing and says, "My father, David Poe, he was an actor. He abandoned our family when I was only two years old. I understand he was not very talented."
"I put in as much [humor] as would fit," Hudson explains. "Whenever there was a moment for a punchline, I put it in, if it was true to his nature. Because the piece is so dark, I figured people would be ripe for a laugh.
"And you want to get a good laugh out of them," he says. "You're always the actor as well as the character."
Though In the Shadow of the Raven was originally conceived as a theatrical presentation, Hudson says, "I've only been able to perform it in a theatrical setting on a couple of occasions. Usually I perform in libraries and high schools and colleges, where the theatricality is at a minimum."
He adds, though, that audiences seem to be fascinated by, and empathetic with, Poe no matter the venue, reactions that Hudson also gets when performing his recently completed one-man show on Albert Einstein.
"Sometimes, now, I do 'em one after another," says Hudson. "I'll do an evening where the first act is Einstein and the second act is Poe, or vice versa. I just need a few minutes in between, just enough time to change my clothes. It kind of freaks people out."
He laughs and adds, "But people really seem to identify with Poe an awful lot. An awful lot. With Einstein they're intrigued, but with Poe, they're moved."
Duffy Hudson will perform In the Shadow of the Raven at the Moline Public Library on Thursday, November 5, at 7 p.m. To register for the free program, call (309)736-7537 or visit MolineLibrary.com.
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