Though ghouls and goblins are more typically associated with the holiday, local theater enthusiasts are invited to spend this Halloween with another eerie character: "The Raven" and the famous writer who created it.
The Gothic literary genius will come to life in a production by the new, Altoona-based theater group Thing Unseen. The group will present "Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe," written by playwright Eric Coble at 9 p.m. on Saturday and 8 p.m. on Monday.
The play is a dramatization of four of Poe's well-known works, including "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat" and, of course, "The Raven."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Tom Liska (left) as Edgar Allan Poe is taken away by a policeman (Ed Day) in the production “Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe” by the Things Unseen theater company.
When Jody Hesley and Valerie Stratton, co-founders of Things Unseen and the show's production managers, realized their first show would fall right around Halloween, they thought the "adult-oriented spookiness" of the "Nightfall" script would be perfect.
"It just all fell into place," Hesley of Altoona said.
Hesley and Stratton met while acting in the same production of "Broadway Bound" with the Altoona Community Theatre. When they got to talking, the two theater lovers realized that there was a lack of edgier, issue-oriented plays being performed in the area.
If you go
What: "Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe," presented by Things Unseen
When: 9 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Monday. An optional dinner catered by Raphael's Restaurant, Altoona, will be offered at 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Church in the Middle of the Block, 217 Fifth Ave., Altoona
Details: Tickets for the show are $12, and can be purchased at the door or in advance at Thompson's Pharmacies or Raphael's Restaurant, 3312 Pleasant Valley Blvd., Altoona. Saturday's four-course catered dinner is $40, and tickets must be purchased in advance at Raphael's or by calling 201-2327
Filling this void is something they hope to do now about four times a year.
"We just want to show people it doesn't have to fit a certain criteria to be a really nice theater experience," Hesley said.
In the future, the two hope to put on plays by authors like Joan Holden, Sam Shepard and Eugene O'Neill, as well as other cultural and artistic events and readings featuring the work of local playwrights. But for now, Stratton said the cast and crew are focused on doing a good job on their premiere performance with "Nightfall."
"We have a limited budget, but we're really going to try to put on a nice show for everyone," Stratton of Altoona said.
The theater group will take advantage of the setting of the Church in the Middle of the Block - where Things Unseen will serve as the resident theater company - by using effects and lighting to "create a real atmosphere," Stratton said. A minimal set will serve as a backdrop for actors like Tom Liszka of Altoona, who plays Poe in "Nightfall." Liszka described this production, and the others that Things Unseen plans to put on, as an "exciting opportunity to act."
"I think they really want to concentrate on works that are a challenge for the actor," Liszka, a professor of English at Penn State Altoona, said. "To take on such a serious acting role improves you as an actor across the board."
Liszka said he was a fan of Poe even before appearing in this play, which he described as "psychologically shocking and fun." He added he feels very close to the work of the late poet and author, and even once wrote a parody of "The Raven" himself.
"That's one of the funny things. When I'm on stage doing 'The Raven,' I keep wanting to sneak in my own lines," Liszka said.
For director Haley Hawk of Hollidaysburg, "Nightfall" and Things Unseen have provided her with a valuable new learning experience.
"This is the first time I've ever directed anything," she said. "It's hard, because there's a lot more things you have to worry about. With directing you really have to be involved in every aspect, from backstage to lighting and set design. But it's really, really rewarding just to see my vision of how I want everything to look come together and come to life."
Hawk said she was the one who originally found the script for "Nightfall," and presented it to Hesley and Stratton. She likes that the play has elements of scariness and creepiness to coincide with Halloween, but that it's "not your typical 'Boo!' scary."
"There's a lot of emotion throughout the play," Hawk added.
Emotion and relevant issues are what Things Unseen hope to hit with all of the plays they put on, Hesley said.
"We want to just take people and make them think," he said. "It's the kind of theater where you'll have to use your head a little bit."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.