Story and photo by Matt Decker
There’s something wrong with the Usher house. Is it cursed? Haunted? Or are its inhabitants simply mad? The answers may not be immediately clear, but one thing is certain, according to director April York:
“This play will keep you on the edge of your seat,” she said. “It’s a great story.”
The curtain is set to rise on the Pulaski Fine Arts Association production of “The Fall of the House of Usher” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Theater on the Square in downtown Waynesville. Evening performances are also scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7, 8, 14 and 15, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee set for Sept. 9. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children and are available now at the Pulaski County Tourism Bureau, Lone Oak Printing and St. Robert Family Dental.
First penned by Edgar Allan Poe in 1839, the story of the Ushers has intrigued and frightened readers and playgoers for nearly 180 years. In the PFAA version, the action begins with a character only known as “The Stranger,” played by Stephen Woolsey, who narrates the story at a local tavern called “The Raven.” There, he tells listeners of being summoned to Usher house by a brother and sister, Roderick and Madeline, who are convinced the structure is cursed.
“The idea is that (the Stranger) is an unknown, whose identity is revealed later in the play,” Woolsey explained. “Our narrator leads us through the story from the safety of the tavern. He’s a storyteller, and it’s a lot of fun to play.”
Curtis Wood plays Roderick, who is played by a number of maladies.
“It’s based on Edgar Allen Poe, so of course he’s brooding, dark and depressed,” Wood said. “He is very much a tortured soul. He kind of alludes to the fact that his ancestors weren’t the greatest people, and that as a result there is what he believes to be a curse on the house and his family. As a result, he is in a mental decline, and his sister is, as well. He hears voices in the walls and sees visions in the house. He has a strange connection with the house. It’s an interesting role to play.”
The cast features several actors who are veteran of past PFAA productions, as well as a number of new faces appearing for the first time at the Theater on the Square. One of those newcomers is Ancle Evans, who appears in dual roles as Mr. Dawson and Doctor Fortunato.
“This is a really unique group,” Evans said. “It’s been a lot of fun. The fellowship with different people on stage and trying something I’ve never done before — it’s definitely an adventure.”
Woolsey, who has acted in and directed several PFAA productions, said several of the newcomers arrived with previous experience with other community theater groups.
“It’s been fun to work with many of the new folks, because they aren’t novices,” he said. “Some of them are very good performers, they’re just new to us.”
The cast also includes Abby Crocker as Lucy, Amber Zack in dual roles as Mrs. Dawson and the housekeeper, Cassondra Stevens as both Madeline and the Mysterious Woman, Jim Gillette as the Hooded Figure, Jeremy Johnson in the role of C. Auguste Dupin, and Sarah Mallman as Lenore. Also appearing are the mononymous Troi, InaMarie Evans and Grace York as the first, second and third girl dancers, respectively.
The crew includes stage manager Robin Woolsey, with lights and sound by Matt Crocker.
PFAA has rated the production PG-13 for some scary situations that may be too intense for young viewers.
York hopes audiences will enjoy a tale that “keeps you guessing until the very end.”
“There’s so much more I want to say about it,’” she said, “but I don’t want to give away the storyline. … I think when the lights go down, (audiences) will be like, ‘What just happened?’”