Dark facts keep Poe's legend alive Readings, graveside toast to mark writer's birthday

January 16, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

NEW YORK actor Jerry Rockwood will highlight the annual Edgar Allan Poe birthday celebration with his portrayal of the troubled writer in a sequence of selections from the author's tales, poetry, essays and letters.

The celebration under the auspices of the Poe House is being staged at Westminster Hall, Fayette and Greene streets, tomorrow through Sunday.

The event honors the 183rd anniversary of the birth of the innovative American writer to whom fame and fortune came too late. Lectures on the great man's works, readings and performances of his poems and stories by local artists are scheduled over the three-day period.

On Saturday, the eve of Poe's birthday, Rockwood will stage his highly dramatic piece, "Edgar Allan Poe: A Condition of Shadow."

The professional actor has been performing his one-man vehicle for 12 years appearing at theatrical venues and colleges in the United States, Canada and Alaska. The show has had a Broadway booking and has also aired on CBS in New York.

"It all goes back and forth in time," said Rockwood during a phone interview from his Manhattan home. "The material will be new except to those extraordinary Poe freaks," he added laughing.

"The 90-minute work is a series of images -- not in any particular sequence -- that shows a fairly normal, happy guy declining to the point nobody recognizes him. He becomes cynical -- feeling unloved, unwanted and unrecognized.

"It covers the critical times in his life including the difficulties of getting published. His work is a revelation of what kind of life this man led."

In his research, Rockwood, who also teaches at Mount Clair State College in New Jersey, discovered that Poe was deeply and passionately committed to writing poetry not short stories.

"He was interested in nothing of the material world," he said. "Only in the realm of the mind. He wanted only to be recognized and became bitter when society did not acknowledge him.

"When you learn a little bit of his life you can understand why he wrote some of the things he did."

Rockwood is portraying Poe in his 40s wearing the frock coat style of the period. "The show changes from year to year," he said. "It is a bizarre kind of theater. I am my own stage manager and tech crew. The aloneness magnifies everything. There is no one to rescue you when you blow a line on stage and no one to share the compliments of backstage visitors after the show."

The actor refused to reveal the details of the material he has chosen to execute. "One of the strong points of theater is to be ahead of the audience," he said. "It would spoil the punch endings."

The 183rd observance begins at 8 p.m. Friday with a lecture, "Poe's Baltimore Connections," delivered by Mary Markey of the Baltimore City Life Museums. Actor Don Mullins will offer a dramatic reading of "The Premature Burial." Actor Tony Tsendeas will perform as "Frank, the Body Snatcher." Admission $6 for all ages.

On Saturday evening after the Rockwood performance Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House, will give the traditional toast to Poe at the Poe Grave. "Edgar Allan Poe: A Condition of Shadow" is at 8 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults and $8 for those under age 18.

On Sunday actors David Keltz, Don Mullins and Tony Tsendeas will present repeated performances of "The Black Cat," "The Tell Tale Heart," "The Bells," and "Annabel Lee." Performances are at p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for those under age 18.

For more information call the Poe House at 396-7932.

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