The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story Credit: Jhenai Mootz

Staged in various rooms throughout Oak Park’s Cheney Mansion, David Rice’s clever and moving promenade-style show (directed by Skyler Schrempp), interweaves long passages from Edgar Allan Poe’s better-known writings (“The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart”) with original biographical material to create a portrait of a desperate, half-mad writer inspired by and deeply obsessed with his child bride and her tragic early death. (Virginia Clemm was only 13 when she married Poe, and only 24 when she died of TB.)

There may be few surprises in this show for those familiar with Poe’s life and work, but there are still plenty of delights. The universally high level of performance achieved by Schrempp’s ensemble brings out the best in Poe’s sometimes overwrought work. Christian Gray is especially sublime as Poe. Even when he’s declaiming poetry as well known as “The Bells,” he rings new sounds out of the familiar stanzas. Erica Bittner is similarly appealing as Virginia; her performance as someone dying of consumption is utterly free of melodrama or false sentimentality. Schrempp’s staging mines the brilliance of Rice’s original premise (earlier versions of this show were performed promenade style at the Mayslake Peabody Mansion in Oak Brook). Having the audience move to a different room every ten minutes or so keeps the mind fresh, the eyes alert, and ears open to the production’s many new interpretations of old words.  v