Two crucial and sometimes forgotten elements of the Edgar Allen Poe myth serve as cornerstones of Annex Theatre's Late-Night show Claustrophilia. The first is Poe's failure to achieve success during his lifetime; the second is his considerable reputation for psychological insight, which resulted from an attention paid to everyday objects and locations, and distinguished him from writers of atmospheric horror preceding and following his era.

Playwright Amy Freed's Poe is a wrecked shadow of a storyteller, and also a character within one of his own tales, one based on his marriage to child-bride Sissy. Poe's impotence is partly literary and completely sexual. Sissy desires congress with her husband, and when it's denied her, she takes refuge in the sexual sublimation of Poe-styled storytelling. When even that becomes unavailable, she creates situations of increasing claustrophobic terror in which to spend the night.

Director Eric Ray Anderson thankfully embraces the resulting meditation on art, terror, and intimacy as comedy, building from Freed's delightfully loopy take on Poe's circular use of language. By creating an atmosphere of suggested space and levels, he plays up both Poe's poverty and the universality of the everyday items made objects of terror. Surprisingly for a play that rewards this many levels of analysis, Claustrophilia performs like a slight piece. Alycia Delmore's Sissy has to carry more of the show's comedy but less of its import than Charles Leggett as Poe, and as such, she fares slightly better. Like much of Poe's work, Claustrophila is singular of voice but strains in tumid fashion at its narrative points of construction. The best parts of the show reward close attention to the use of its story-within-a-story motif, which casts tantalizing doubt on Poe's accuracy as a narrator--a clever commentary on a writer's self-mythologizing tendencies.