Setting is perfect for Poe horror

Special midnight shows will be tonight and next Saturday.
YOUNGSTOWN -- It's hard to imagine a better place to see "The Fall of the House of Usher."
The Victorian Players theater -- a small, old church in its former life -- is the perfect setting for Edgar Allen Poe's gothic tale of madness and horror. The theater has a key part in this production, just as the evil Usher mansion plays a pervading role in the story.
The troupe takes full advantage of the intimate building, maximizing its character in every way possible -- starting with the grinning jack 'o lanterns on the front steps that greet patrons as they enter. In truth, the Victorian's offering is an intelligent way to immerse oneself in the gloomy atmospherics of Halloween, far more authentic than any haunted house attraction.
J.E. Ballantyne Jr. adapted the Poe story for the stage. He also directed it and plays the role of Roderick Usher, the morbid man of the house.
Roderick lives in the dark and musty mansion with his sister, Madeline (played by Tiffany Sokol), and their butler, Gregor (played by Ed O'Malley).
He suffers from a strange malady in which his senses are acutely sharp. He can hear the softest of sounds, and shrinks from the slightest light.
Madeline, whose face bears a corpse-like pallor, is also unwell. She walks the house at night in a trance-like state, and passes her waking hours weak and resigned. A chill might run through your spine when she sleepwalks through the pews.
Convinced that he is doomed by the family curse and the evil that inhabits the mansion, Roderick summons his childhood friend Horatio to cheer him.
John Pecano plays the gentlemanly Horatio with intensity and precision. Earnest and eager to help, he is the voice of the outside world, curious but unbelieving.
And Ballantyne gives the audience a glimpse into Roderick's terrible madness, building his agitation until it crescendos in a brilliant climax.
The tight, 90-minute play, which is set in the early 1800s, is made complete by the costumes and the set's period furniture. Sound and lighting effects are also notable -- especially the neat lightning storm that rages outside a window.
And most importantly, the play stays true to Poe's writing style.
The narrated passages use Poe's keenly descriptive words. And the staging itself bears the author's objective style, a journalistic neutrality that only serves to magnify the horror because it encourages the beholder to paint a picture in his mind's eye.
The play runs this weekend and next. In addition to its regularly scheduled curtain times, special midnight presentations will be given tonight and next Saturday.
"The Fall of the House of Usher" will be presented at 7:30 and midnight tonight; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27; 7:30 p.m. and midnight Oct. 28; and at 2 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 29. Victorian Players Theatre is at 702 Mahoning Ave., across from Flynn's Tires, near downtown Youngstown. Call (330) 746-5455 for ticket information.

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