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Morbid Curiosities: Cedar Rapids storyteller breathes new life into Poe's tales

Darrin Crow of Cedar Rapids is returning to Giving Tree Theater in Marion with his one-man show, #x201c;Morbid Curiositi
Darrin Crow of Cedar Rapids is returning to Giving Tree Theater in Marion with his one-man show, “Morbid Curiosities: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe.” Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (Darrin Crow photo)

Never say “nevermore.”

Storyteller Darrin Crow of Cedar Rapids is returning to Marion’s Giving Tree Theater to quote “The Raven” and other Poe classics over the Halloween weekend.

He’ll present his solo show, “Morbid Curiosities: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe,” at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

He won’t be wearing the masque of the red death, but he will be wearing a face shield, in accordance with the venue’s COVID-19 protocols. He appreciates the way owners Jamie and Andrea Henley are making space for actors to dream within their dreams during this pandemic.

“They’ve got all of their COVID precautions in place,” he said. “I know all of their performances have been in face shields.”

Among the other precautions, audience numbers have been reduced to allow for physical distancing in the seating area and lobby, and concessions are delivered to patrons in their seats.

Now 48, Crow’s fascination with Poe began in junior high, which he said is pretty much where the poet’s dark mind-set stayed as he penned tales with such ominous titles as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Premature Burial” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

“Poe at heart really was a junior high boy,” said Crow, pointing out that Poe’s writings are full of the love, angst and drama that rule the junior high and high school years. “I don’t think he ever moved too much farther than that in his life. He really knows how to connect with a 14-year-old boy.”

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In his poem “Alone,” Poe wrote: “From childhood’s hour I have not been as others were — I have not seen as others saw — I could not bring my passions from a common spring; From the same source I have not taken my sorrow — I could not awaken my heart to joy at the same tone — And all I lov’d I lov’d alone.”

“I could see some sulky kid sitting in a corner and thinking about how alone he is,” Crow said.

That pretty much sums up Poe’s life, which Crow will share from the stage.

History

“He really did live his own tragic story,” Crow said.

Born in Boston in 1809 to actors David and Elizabeth Poe, his father abandoned the family in 1810 and his mother died the following year. John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Va., raised him, but his life was far from happy. John fought with him over his money management and gambling debts, and they became estranged.

Between 1827 and 1831, Poe dropped out of college, wrangled an early discharge from the Army, dabbled in writing and got himself kicked out of West Point before embarking in earnest on his career path.

He became known for his literary criticism as well as his own poetry and prose. In 1836, he married his first-cousin, Virginia Clemm. He was 26 and she was 13, “which was creepy even then,” Crow said.

“He seemed to have generally loved her,” Crow added, although theirs wasn’t a traditional marriage. Poe sat with his wife in the evenings and taught her algebra. They had no children and some speculate he may not have been able to consummate their marriage.

“He loves being in love and regularly pursued women, but never successfully — and sometimes with horrifying results,” Crow said. “There were lots of women who were in love with him because he was handsome and broody and appealing in that way. The house often had lots of adoring women in it, and Virginia just kind of smiled and nodded, I think because she knew her husband wasn’t going to do anything.”

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Virginia’s mother lived with them, and was the rock in the relationship, Crow said. She traveled to New York with Poe to make sure he followed through with his literary deals and didn’t wander into a bar and drink away his money.

The Poes were penniless when Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1847. Poe died two years later, at age 40. The exact cause is unknown, but alcoholism cast a shadow over his life. After he reportedly was found wandering the streets of Baltimore “delirious,” he was taken to a hospital, where he died four days later.

“The story of his life is just fascinating,” Crow said. “I love that period in American history. We don’t spend a lot of time with the 1820 to 1840 period — it’s between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, but it’s so foundational to what we’ve become.

“Poe interacts with everybody, and we know this because he ticks them off or gets angry with them. You want to root for him because he’s so sad, and then you just want to smack him because he gets all of these opportunities and everyone wants to help him, and he sabotages himself over and over and over again. You just feel so bad for him, and you’re like, ‘I feel really bad for you — and you deserved it because you’re a jerk,’” Crow said.

“The people of that period all seemed to live larger-than-possible lives. It’s not like they can drive or fly anywhere, but they travel constantly. (Poe) was always going from New York to Richmond and back and forth. I’m fascinated by how mobile people in that period were, even though they were barely mobile.”

Enduring Words

Crow, a Cedar Rapids native, majored in the 19th century occupation of interpretive speech at Pensacola Christian College in Florida.

“It’s a useless major unless you’re going to become a storyteller,” he said. “I didn’t know that at the time, but it prepared me exactly for what I was going to do.”

He’s been telling stories since junior high and high school, enjoyed reading bedtime stories to his three sons, and is happy that even as young adults, they still like diving into a good tale.

Poe’s vivid writings led Crow to develop his “Morbid Curiosities” production 21 years ago to present at Ushers Ferry Historic Village in Cedar Rapids. He’s been stepping into Poe’s musings ever since, and they never grow old.

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“Poe may have frequently been a jerk, but he knew how to write interesting personalities, so telling his story is a lot of fun,” Crow said. “It’s those words that grab you. He paints such vivid, easily seeable things you can picture. In ‘The Mask of the Red Death,’ he’s describing the colors of each of the rooms and you really can see what’s going on.”

Crow, a freelance storyteller, has presented this and other tales at Ushers Ferry, as well as The History Center and the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, the Granger House Victorian Museum in Marion and “lots of libraries,” he said.

To keep the Poe show fresh, he has done further research over the past few years, to round out the writer’s life.

Halloween weekend audiences will not only hear the shivering tales, but also a bit of humor.

“I had to get ‘The Angel of the Odd’ in because it’s one of the comedies, and no one reads his comedies,” Crow said. “It’s wonderfully weird, dark and screamingly funny. It’s a long cautionary tale about drinking too much — he knew perfectly well what a drunk he was.”

And even though he wrote lots of comedies, they were particular to his era, Crow said, and aren’t necessarily funny filtered through the modern lens.

But another story in particular hits right at the heart of today’s world.

“I really like ‘Red Death.’ I think it builds beautifully,” he said. “I love the language in it and the color, because I love color. And in a year like 2020, it’s such a remarkably apt and prescient story — here’s an awful plague and here are the elites in charge who are trying to ignore it’s happening, at the expense of everyone else. Nothing political in that, is there.”

At a Glance

• What: Darrin Crow in “Morbid Curiosities: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe”

• When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

• Where: Giving Tree Theater, 752 10th St., Marion

• Tickets: $16, Givingtreetheater.com

• Safety measures: Masks must be worn in the lobby and restrooms, but can be removed when seated; see more at Givingtreetheater.com/pages/covid-19-precautions

• Actor’s information: Darrincrow.com/

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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