Review: The House at Poe Corner (Eldrtich Theatre)

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Winnie the Pooh meets Edgar Allan Poe in The House at Poe Corner playing at Red Sand Castle Theatre in Toronto

I went to the Red Sandcastle Theatre to see Eric Woolfe and Michael O’Brien’s workshop production of The House at Poe Corner. When I came out again, I was at loss for words. What exactly had I just seen? And what the heck was I going to say about it?

A deep breath.

This is a fusion of Winnie the Pooh and Edgar Allan Poe. A.A. Milne‘s iconic woodland creatures have been re-imagined as gothic and gloomy figures. Pooh Bear is “Poe Bear”, Piglet is “Cutlet” and so on. They are stuffed toys refashioned into sinister forms.

In place of Christopher Robin, we have Mr. Usher, who has grown old and died. His toys, left alone, have fallen into disrepair and despair.

At first, I felt a little bit detached from the aesthetic. Adorable animals with bulging bloodshot eyes and demented attitudes are an obvious juxtaposition. But then, these characters and their world began to creep under my skull. I got caught up in their angst and dark adventures. They are, weirdly enough—given the hokey concept—very well drawn. I felt for them, these pitiful creatures driven insane by the loss of a friend and the terror of existence.

After listening to their ghastly ranting and watching as they stab, burn and torture each other… I grew a little mad myself.

It is an imaginative concept. The set-up seems gimmicky at first: cutesy animals juxtaposed with tales of gore and lunacy. All of the elements, however, are so carefully wrought. The writing is playful and demented! The production is cartoonish and has a vaudeville energy. Our narrators (Mike Peterson and Eric Woolfe), dressed as Poe—iconic pale faces, disheveled hair, and mustaches—employ all manner of devices to tell these stories: songs (which they call “warbles”), parlour magic, and puppetry.

The play is episodic, riffing on familiar scenes from Poe and Pooh. Often characters die only to be “un-murdered” to remain part of the action. These pitiful creatures fall victim to all kinds of madness, mayhem and murder, and finally succumb to the great Blunderbeast.

The theatre goes pitch black.

Inside the belly of the Blunderbeast, Poe Bear and his friend Cutlet have an intimate reconciliation. They contemplate the dark and scary new environment. They will make it their home, and face whatever terrors lie in wait—together.

It is a surprisingly poignant moment at the end of all the ghastly slapstick shenanigans.

This is a show for anyone with a fondness for the macabre and absurd. Watching stuffed toys stab each other, sending flower petals and strips of red felt flying into the air, is not a sight for all eyes. But, for anyone willing to give this madness a chance, there is a very touching through-line hidden under the zany antics.

Details:

Photo of Michael O’Brien and Eric Woolfe by Jonathan J. Davis