Great performative art is one that is often built like the most nourishing and simultaneously decadent layer cake. This is exactly the image and sentiment I felt when I first heard about Jeffrey Combs, an actor near and dear to all of us fringe-film-culture loving misfit elves, doing a one-man-stage-show as legendary genre-defining writer Edgar Allan Poe. There’s the obvious fit, with one of modern horror’s most beloved playing as a man whose prose and poetry helped further define the genre, influencing multitudes since his untimely passing in 1849. But there is much more to it than that since Combs has proved himself a shape-shifter of a talent that can adapt to any story, while Poe’s talent and vision went beyond the confines of description. True talent can define a genre while also busting beyond it.
Nevermore: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe is a 90-minute play written by noted writer Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, Dagon, etc) and directed by his constant-partner-in-crime, the only and only Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond, etc). From 2009 to present-day, Combs has portrayed Poe in this particular production in various cities across the United States and will soon be able to add Tarrytown, New York to the list for this year’s Sleepy Hollow International Film Festival (SHIFF). He was kind enough to give me a little bit of his time and answer a few questions about acting, theater, and of course, Edgar Allan Poe.
Interviewer: As a working actor, you have pretty much done it all, including the one-man-show, Nevermore. How would you describe the creative dynamic of performing solo versus working with an ensemble cast?
Jeffrey Combs: Well, the first thing that I didn’t really anticipate about doing a one-man show is the loneliness of it. There’s no one to run scenes with, compare notes on how the performance went or even to grab a beer with after the show. The camaraderie between performers is one of the joys of acting. Nevermore is a deeply rewarding experience for me, but a road taken alone as well.
I: Reading past interviews and quotes from you, it’s obvious how much love and connection you have for Edgar Allan Poe. What was the gateway earlier in your life to Poe and his work?
JC: Like most, I was introduced to Poe in early high school, in 9th Grade maybe. I have clear memories of reading the short story The Tell-Tale Heart and the poem, Annabelle Lee. Both were immediately so vivid and haunting to me and, most importantly, they were accessible which is a vital component when introducing a young reader to a new literary world. His writing just jumps off the page.
I: Speaking of the man, do you have any personal favorite film adaptations of Poe’s literature?
JC: I’m partial, but I do love Stuart Gordon’s The Black Cat. It cleverly tells Poe’s macabre story of a man who blames a cat for all his troubles. And the choice of making Poe the main character in the film allows details of Poe’s challenging life to be interwoven into the film. Also, while shooting Black Cat the idea of a one-man show was born.
I: Are there any other creative figures from the past that you would like to dive in and richly portray? (I would personally love to see you portray silent film director Mack Sennett or Arkansas-based cult filmmaker, Charles B. Pierce.)
JC: I haven’t thought much about, but you’ve given me a couple of roles to research. Thanks!
I: Do you have any go-to pieces of music or film to help you get into a particularly creative mind space?
JC: For Nevermore, I stay with contemplative and melancholy classical pieces to get into the zone before a show.
I: Have you ever had a role that you were so immersed in that you left it personally changed? If so, which roles and how so?
JC: Not really. Each role can certainly affect you as you research, prepare and portray it, but, for the most part, actors are able to set it aside after the curtain falls at least I hope so.
I: What is your number one hope regarding connecting to the audience for Nevermore, especially regarding their leaving perceptions of Poe the man?
JC: I hope audiences come away with a deeper appreciation of Poe’s multi-faceted genius and with a new-found awareness of the hardships he faced almost from the very beginning of his brief life. I also hope they cultivate a new appreciation for Poe’s sense of humor which most people are unaware that he possessed.
I: Finally, since the Halloween season will soon be upon us, what are your favorite ways to celebrate the season? Pumpkin patch hunting? Twisting to Zacherley’s Dinner with Drac? Throwing those terrible Mary Jane candies at possible enemies?
JC: I like creating a spooky vibe in front of my house for the trick-or-treaters. And, oh yeah, the candy.
Thanks again to Mr. Combs for his time and if you’re a fan of his, Poe’s, or both (and really, you should be) and are anywhere near the Tarrytown area from October 10th to the 13th, do check this amazing looking festival out.