Victorian Players brings Poe’s ‘Valdemar’ to life
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Every year, J.E. Ballantyne Jr. says this will be the last time he adapts an Edgar Allan Poe story into a Halloween play.
But like an animated corpse that refuses to stay buried, a new Poe tale finds its way to the Victorian Players Theater stage almost every October.
This year it will be the cold and gruesome “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” which opens Friday. It runs for three weekends, including two midnight performances.
In this short story by the master of macabre, a man is hypnotized just before his death and kept in a state of suspended consciousness for months after he expires.
It will be the seventh Poe adaptation that Ballantyne has brought to the stage.
In addition to writing the stage play, Ballantyne also is the director. In an interview this week, he said “Valdemar” likely will be the last in the Poe series. “I’ve exhausted the Poe stories that you can actually adapt for the stage,” he said.
“Valdemar” is not a long story and is told in spare and clinical language. It also has only a handful of characters, so Ballantyne, as he has done in the past, added background that goes beyond the published tale.
“I created a backstory on Valdemar that also involves one of the other characters, which we find out as the play progresses,” said Ballantyne. “I didn’t pad it out too much, but enough to add more interest.”
The play wraps up in a little under two hours.
The tale touches on ethical questions about keeping people alive and will have an unavoidable allure to zombie-lovers.
The story culminates in a hideous scene, but Ballantyne said he doesn’t rely too much on special effects to create the horror. “I wanted to stick with what [Poe] wrote,” he said.
Ballantyne said he found it easy to adapt “Valdemar” — unlike last year’s offering, “The Masque of the Red Death,” which he called “difficult.”
But although the story practically wrote itself, Ballantyne said the ending has been a work in progress. He and his cast have been tweaking the final scene for the past week. “Even when I wrote it I wasn’t sure of the ending,” he said.
The role of Valdemar is being played by Victorian veteran Dave Wolford, with Miles Paul Assion making his debut at the theater as Dr. Pontier, the “mesmerist.” Also in the cast are Brian Lee, C. Richard Haldi, Don Wolford, Liz Nalepa and Brandy Hughes.
The innate creepiness of the Victorian Players theater, a century-old church building, will be heightened with mood-setting lighting. The tale takes place entirely in Valdemar’s bed-room, with the dying man laying in an oversized bed.