Brittney Howard, Brandon Diaz, and Jon Merlino (Connie Bertke )

All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.

Brianna Meeks, a student at Tuscarora High School , reviews “Nevermore! Edgar Allan Poe, the Final Mystery” performed by Briar Woods High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program .

Edgar Allan Poe once asked, “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?” The Briar Woods High School production of Nevermore! Edgar Allan Poe, the Final Mystery said `Yes` with one caveat...The dreams themselves are nightmares. In this production, the audience journeyed through Poe’s nightmares, from the beating of the Tell-Tale Heart to the Pit and the Pendulum.

Nevermore! was written by Julian Wiles, founder and producing artistic director of Charleston Stage, where it premiered and sold out in 1994. The show follows Poe (Brandon Diaz) on his alleged last days aboard a ship, where he is tormented by nightmares in the form of his own written works. The supernatural also appears in the form of the specter of his love, Annabel Lee (Kayla Shroyer), as she follows him on his journey to evade the evil intentions of Captain Nimrod (Alex Bertke). Two dances not in the original script were added to facilitate the macabre atmosphere of the show.

Brandon Diaz portrayed the tortured Poe, reciting Poe’s own poems with a fervor and energy that brought dimensions to his complex character. Alex Bertke was Captain Nimrod, who was later revealed to be Lucifer in disguise. Bertke successfully portrayed a melding of both sides of his character as the play progressed, and his interactions with Diaz gave the show a launching point with which to convey Poe’s descent into madness. Kayla Shroyer gave a unique interpretation of Annabel Lee and aptly provided motivation for the majority of Poe’s actions.

While the ensemble as a whole could have had more energy, certain actors stood out. Most impressive was Jon Merlino, who not only gave Viscount Valequez a sarcastic yet respectable nature, but was also able to portray the very memorable and very creepy Hop frog. His balancing act atop a rickety set while screaming his lines gave the whole scene a grotesque atmosphere. Opposite him in the Masque of the Red Death scene was Brittany Howard as the Duchess Ulrica. She gave her small character definition and poise in her acting as well as dancing abilities.

The technical aspects of the show were a highlight, and scene changes, lighting, and props significantly enhanced the entire experience. With a revolving set, the running crew, headed by Nick Reist and stage manager Caitlin Gilligan, executed several quick scene changes that gave the show incredible flow. The crew also pulled off various incredible feats akin to a magician’s act, stealthily making Annabel Lee appear from a box that was supposed to be empty in one scene and making a porthole disappear in another. The lighting, designed and executed by Olivia Comm and Emily Cox, reflected Poe’s emotions, adding to the dark atmosphere of the show. The props were all very period, with the bottle that shattered on impact being the most sophisticated.

The cast and crew of Nevermore! skillfully handled this immensely technical show, providing an entertaining view of Poe’s nightmares and the mystery that surrounded his life and death.