Victorian Players Theater A classy take on Poe chiller



October in the Valley means Halloween entertainment, and the Victorian Players Theater provides some classic scares with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.”

This lesser-known Poe tale provides sophisticated suspense, scares and just a touch of gore.

The title character, M. Valdemar, played by Dave Wolford, is a man whose life is coming to an end. However, his friend Dr. Pontier, played by Miles Paul Assion, proposes an experiment that may keep death at bay. Using his powers of mesmerization, Pontier believes he can halt the process of dying, keeping his friend in a deep trance until a cure can be found.

Dr. Franklin and Dr. Dietz, played by Brian Lee and C. Richard Haldi, respectively, feel the idea is preposterous, but insist on observing the attempt, for the safety of Valdemar. Aided by his assistant Theodore Lionel (Don Wolford) and Valdemar’s nurse, Christina (Elizabeth Nalepa), the experiment works, but with some unintended consequences.

The Victorian Players’ playhouse is the perfect setting for this show, adding a sense of eeriness to the old-fashioned decor of M. Valdemar’s home.

Making his Vic debut, Miles Paul Assion portrays Dr. Pontier in a very villainous manner, reminiscent of many Vincent Price roles.

As Valdemar, Wolford unfortunately spends much of his time in a trancelike state, but he has no trouble stealing the show when the time comes.

Nalepa’s performance as the dedicated nurse calls to mind the heroines of classic Hitchcock films. Lee and Haldi pair well together, providing criticism and disapproval like Waldorf and Statler. The young Wolford’s character of Theodore Lionel mostly serves a practical purpose, giving Pontier a sounding board for the details of his experiment and Valdemar’s backstory, but in the show’s climax he proves himself a great addition to the cast.

This story has more of a sci-fi feel than the usual psychological thrill that Poe is known to provide, and it incorporates that old style of speaking that takes some time to adjust to. Those moments in the show that perhaps elicited gasps in the days of its origin are more likely today to cause a few nervous laughs.

Director J.E. Ballantyne Jr. shows a deep respect for the great works of Poe, and his impeccable use of foreshadowing and subtlety make for a truly entertaining evening.

Although this production may not fill all of your spookiness needs, it’s a fine addition, adding class to any scary plans you may have for the weekend. And with a run time of just over 90 minutes, it can easily be worked into a night of haunted houses or bonfires.

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