Claustrophobia | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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CLAUSTROPHILIA, Dreadnought Theatre Company, at the Performance Loft. Edgar Allan Poe lived a life full of contradictions. Easily one of the most talented writers and critics of his age--his pronouncements on the emptiness of Longfellow and his cohorts are particularly prescient--he was also a neurotic, melancholy, alcoholic, drug-addicted, totally self-pitying man. Reading his biography, it's hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

That seems to have been Amy Freed's attitude when she wrote the comedy Claustrophilia, based on Poe's ill-fated marriage to his 13-year-old consumptive cousin, Virginia, whom he sometimes called Sis. Virginia's death in her mid-twenties is said to have sparked some of Poe's most morbid--and best-loved--work, including "Annabel Lee," and Claustrophilia purports to show us several days in the dysfunctional marriage of Mr. and Mrs. E.A. Poe. Poe spends his days recovering from his last alcohol or opium binge and pontificating in the same high-flown language typical of his writing. Sissy, on the other hand, is obsessed with the idea of being buried alive and begs her husband to devise ever more elaborate approximations.

It's a funny premise. And Freed has Poe's style down cold. But there's really not enough material for a 90-minute play: after the first 30 minutes, we have a pretty good idea how it will end. And even though Oona Kersey makes a wonderful walking corpse as Poe's death-obsessed wife, Adam S. Moore isn't nearly a strong enough comic performer to make the writer's puffed-up ego funny.

--Jack Helbig

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