First stop on the way to Nevermore, by new company Blood Ensemble: the Stumbling Monk bar, which serves as ticket office. Then a company member will lead the audience up a chilly nighttime street, down a dark alley lined with fall leaves, through the back door of a house, and down some stairs to a small, low-ceilinged rectangular basement room where Eddie (a heroin-addicted writer) slumps in a chair.
The audience sits in single file on the long ends of the rectangle, watching the proceedings and, sometimes, each other. The arrangement gives the feeling of a tiny, dank tennis match—and the two lead actors of Nevermore, based on the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe, are playing a game with each other. Eddie (Douglas Alexander) brings home young Valerie (Megan Jackson) for some vodka and nookie. She works in a bar and wants to be a singer; he injects drugs and wants to be a writer. (Poe was one of the first Americans to pursue writing as a full-time occupation, and led an addict's life. Translated into today's circumstances, Poe might well be a junkie living in a basement apartment.)
We know the couple is doomed: Eddie has reveries of his dead wife (Dayo Anderson), who was murdered in that same basement room and a balding man with spectacles (Cail Musick-Slater) who resembles the imp in Henry Fuseli's 1781 painting The Nightmare. The couple is haunted by violence and specters, but also—and this too borrows from Poe—their own quotidian problems: money, food, who's going to buy the day's quota of vodka. The twist at the end is a resolution of sorts, but Nevermore's real juice is its anthropology of sordid lives in that claustrophobic little room. Nevermore occasionally flounders in an amateurish way, but it successfully translates the darkness of an early-19th-century writer into our early-21st-century circumstances. I look forward to Blood Ensemble's next project.