Edgar Allan Poe visits tavern Actor: David Keltz, who portrays the writer at the Poe House in Baltimore, takes his act to Annapolis. Keltz is praised for the way he studies his subject. But, as always, he evades the tough questions.

November 06, 1997|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

For a 188-year-old man, Edgar Allan Poe's hairline has remained remarkably intact. So has his attitude.

He grabbed the back of an antique chair on a recent night at Reynold's Tavern in Annapolis and threw himself upon it. He was caught up in the fury of one of his most famous stories, "Tell-Tale Heart."

Poe's flare for dramatics was not lost on the two dozen in the audience, who sighed almost on cue, as the character in the story revealed the corpse of the man he had just killed.

Actor David Keltz, wearing a surprisingly realistic dark wig, period pants and double-breasted coat, portrays Poe mostly for the Poe House in Baltimore.

It was his first performance at Reynold's Tavern, which was holding its third annual and increasingly popular "Evening with Edgar Allan Poe."

A few tickets are available for dinner and the last two shows Nov. 13.

"People either love Poe or they hate him," said Poe House curator Jeff Jerome, who earlier had introduced Poe to the audience crowded into the tavern's front room. "We are Poe fanatics, completely fascinated by him. Those who don't like Poe either have a self-righteous attitude toward his drinking or his scathing criticisms."

Keltz's 1 1/2 -hour performance was based on "Poe alone A Visit to the Haunted Palace," a one-man rendition of several works by the famed writer and poet prepared by Thomas Maddox-Vise 25 years ago.

Keltz kept the the audience captivated with Poe's literary criticisms and haunting stories before allowing them to ask questions, a tradition that has almost become Keltz's trademark.

"How did you die?" one audience member asked.

Poe skirted the question, but implied that it probably was rabies, not alcoholism or diabetes as many have suspected.

"Who has been putting flowers on your grave? You?" another asked, referring to the anonymous visitor who leaves flowers once a year on Poe's grave in the Westminster Hall and Cemetery in Baltimore.

"When we cross over to the other side, we simply move on to other things," he said, evading the question.

Keltz, who has been playing Poe for more than five years, acknowledged later that the question period makes him a little nervous. The source of the flowers and the cause of Poe's death are the two most-asked questions.

"Once, at a show in which Poe was to mingle with the guests," Keltz said, "one woman came up and said, 'I understand you speak French.' I said, 'That's correct.' She started talking to me in French. I do not speak a word of French."

Keltz said he skirted the situation by saying he hadn't spoken French in 150 years and was out of practice. Not much else stumps him.

Fewer than 30 full-time Poe performers are known nationwide, Poe enthusiasts say. Many don't have the time or patience to understand him, Jerome said, which is why Keltz has been one of the house's most popular Poes yet.

"You need to keep to Poe," he said. "Learn the words, do research and find out what kind of person he was. That's what [Keltz] does. If you don't have the base of knowledge, it really shows."

Keltz, 53, says he intends to keep playing Poe for as long as it will support him, or for as long as people can still see a resemblance between him and the writer, who died at the age of 40.

"You can never reach a point where you know everything about Poe," Keltz said. "Every word and sentence is meant to suggest something."

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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