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Glenda Frank



"The House on Poe Street," by Fengar Gael.
 Directed by Katie McHugh.
Theatre at the 14th Street Y, 344 E. 14 St., NYC
Co-produced by Yonder Window Theatre.
Oct. 27—Nov. 12, 2017.    
Tuesday & Thursday @ 7 PM;
Friday & Saturday @ 7 PM;
Saturday and Sunday @ 2 PM.
Tickets $18 at www.yonderwindow.co.  


Daniel Light, Eliza Shea, Gadi Rubin, Richarda Abrams.
Photo by Al Foote III.

I have been enjoying drafts of "The House on Poe Street," a macabre comedy by Fengar Gael, forquite a while so it is with great pleasure that I watched the world premiere production, directed by Katie McHugh, at the Theatre at the 14th Street Y.

The title, of course, is a give-away. We expect ravens, the wonderfully deep red of the velvet curtain and the upholstery, the spooky lighting, the portrait of Poe and wife Virginia, the many references to "Ligeia," "The Raven," and "The Conqueror Worm," and – of course – a ghost who rattles the walls and interferes with electricity. What we don't expect are the weird sisters, lovely experiments who were gender bent in the womb by their deceased mother

Our protagonist and guide is Mendel Steingold (Gregory Jensen), scion of a wealthy New York family, who is their lawyer. His is the skeptical voice, At first he is charmed by the lovely fraternal twins (Olivia Nice and Eliza Shea), intrigued by their eidetic memory, their wealth, their bizarre biography, and by Poe, who fascinates them. They lend him a book, which has an almost alchemic effect on his imagination, a change he's not that comfortable with. But his fiancée (Tamara Geisler), a poetry teacher at CCNY, and his friends are charmed – until they discover that the sisters dabble in more than psychic chemistry. Mendel calls it "phallocide."

Daniel Light, Olivia Nice, Gregory Jensen, Gadi Rubin, Tamara Geisler, Eliza Shea.
Photo by Al Foote III.

The sisters are obsessed with world peace. They blame testosterone and the patriarchy for all this violence, and they, like their mother, feel the solution is in human re-engineering. To complicate matters, the house they inherited is haunted by a ghost they long to meet. The medium (Laura Johnston), an intriguing mixture of fringe occult with pragmatism, is a hoot. She has her own sounds, a test pattern. As for songs, composer Sheilah Rae has set several poems by Poe to contrapuntal melodies. The songs are lovely.

Director Katie McHugh had fun with the silences, with actors who open their eyes wide with surprise, go into violent spasms of spiritual possession, or cross their legs in unison. The pace was lively, the segues between direct address and perky dialogue were seamless. But the casting was curious and uneven, a disappointment in New York with its large pool of talent.
Fengar Gael has done some really interesting research on embryo development, endocrinology, and warfare, yet her touch is delicate. The pacifist sisters with their incomparable memories can recite lots of scary facts about weapons and death tolls, but it's all in character.

It adds a welcome dimension and credibility to this absurdist, fantasy play with its spooky motif.

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