Well, not the real one. But Christopher Harrelson is pretty excited about the chance to portray an author he’s been interested in since age 8. He stars in a theatrical production titled “Tales of Terror,” which helps mark the Fresno County Public Library’s “Big Read” event celebrating Edgar Allan Poe. The show opens Friday at the Sanctuary Theater, 2336 Calaveras St. Tickets are free and can be picked up at your local library branch.
I recap the production in Friday’s issue of 7. Here’s my extended interview with Harrelson:
Question: Tell us a little about “Tales of Terror.”
Well, as opposed to the book ‘Tales of Terror’, which is three stories, we’re doing dramatic interpretations of a selection of 10 of Poe’s short stories and/or poems as short, one act vignettes, with Poe introducing each piece with some history, but in a sort of Rod Serling manner, a la Night Gallery.
Photo credit: J Bedford
How did you come to your interest in Edgar Allan Poe?
I’ve always had a fascination with Poe. In fact, when I told my mother I would be taking this role, she said, “Of course you are! When you were eight years-old and had first discovered ‘The Raven’, you ran around the house squawking, “Nevermore!”
What’s your favorite Poe tale?
‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, especially now with our production’s interpretation,
Why do you think Poe has remained popular?
I feel like Poe’s macabre sense of humor and the influence he’s had on so many of the prolific contemporary writers (Clive Barker, Stephen King…) and filmmakers (Tim Burton, Guillermo Del Toro…)has kept him alive. That and the easily identifiable character flaws in his protagonists. Plus you’ve also got the whole goth/emo vibe going on, which has always been present on the periphery of pop-culture…I think it’s a little more in the forefront at current.
Are you giving us a realistic interpretation of Poe’s character? Or do you consider it stylized?
I think it’s fairly realistic based on my orientation to him, but there’s really no true way of knowing. I mean, he had a very tragic existence, but he was also very driven. He was probably better adjusted than he was depicted. Most people I know that have darkness in their creative work, seem to do so in order to not be that way in real life.
What’s the hardest thing about playing Poe?
Having the similarities between both he and I and his protagonists and myself put right in my face…but it has made portraying him easier to latch on to.
What did you learn about him that surprised you most?
As a young man, he became somewhat of a local hero in Richmond, Virginia, for swimming some really incredible distance up the James River, just because he could.
Anything else you’d like to say about the production?
Anyone with even a slight interest or curiosity about the man and his work should come see the show. There’s suspence and eerieness, but also a couple of pretty gory effects, some sultriness, and even a few laughs, as dark as they may be. Tickets are free and available at the County Public Libraries. Whether or not people have tickets, I recommend showing up to the theater no later than 7:30 pm, as seating is on a first come, first serve basis after ticket holders are sat. Last year, when California Public Theater and the County Library teamed up for Fahrenheit 451, there was only one performance that non-ticket holders were turned away.