Arts & Entertainment

Creative Cauldron Launches Season With Musical on Life of Edgar Allan Poe



As Edgar Allan Poe, Sean Thompson (center) is surrounded by (from left to right) Karissa Swanigan-Upchurch, Mary Payne, Katie Culligan, Priscilla Cuellar and Dani Danger Stoller (Photo: Margie Jervis)

On Friday, October 7, the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death Falls Church’s Creative Cauldron will launch its 10th anniversary season with “Nevermore,” an imaginative and moving musical adaptation of Poe’s life. The music, written by Matt Conner, blends with selections from Poe’s own writing to explore his life and work and show him to be a far richer and more fascinating character than the gloomy gothic image sometimes portrayed. For the first time, Conner is also directing the production.


Poe’s life was dogged by tragedy and illness, particularly the dreaded tuberculosis. He was abandoned by his father, lost his mother to TB when he was an infant, and then suffered the early deaths of his stepmother, brother and then his own young wife, again to TB. Yet, after failing to settle at the University of Virginia and then West Point, he worked hard to produce what has proved to be an enduring body of work, including chilling poems, such as “The Raven,” in which the “ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore” repeats the word “nevermore.”

Poe wrote perceptive essays on cosmology and cryptography, as well as sharp literary criticism (prompting one observer to wonder whether he wrote in prussic acid). He finished one novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, despite Poe himself describing it as a “very silly book influenced both Jules Verne and Herman Melville.”

Poe’s short stories remain popular, including “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart” and what is often credited as the first modern detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” which featured the brilliant C.Auguste Dupin. Poe’s detective stories were even credited by Arthur Conan Doyle as the “root” from which all followed, including his own creation, Sherlock Holmes.

Following the death of his wife, Poe’s own health, not helped by a lifelong enthusiasm for drinking, declined rapidly. He died in 1849, at the age of 40, after being found desperately ill and delirious in the street in Baltimore. Yet, after such a short career, Poe’s legacy and influence is extraordinary.

Conner describes “Nevermore” as a work about “love, death and acceptance of one’s self.” He adds that “while Poe has more often than not been depicted as a dark, depressed monster, in this work you will see him in all his vulnerability and humanity. You will be transported back to a time when poetry and letters were supremely valued, when one simple word held immense power and meaning.”

Conner said that the theater at ArtSpace Falls Church offers “such a magical space” in which to explore the life-affirming aspects of Poe’s life and work. This season, he has worked to make the production more intimate and to let the audience experience and share the journey Poe takes through his life and the work he left behind, and to think about our own contributions to posterity.

The “Nevermore” cast features Sean Thompson in the role of Edgar Allan Poe. Thompson has appeared locally at Signature Theatre as Artie in “Sunset Boulevard” and Charles in “And the Curtain Rises.” The women in Poe’s life will be played by Priscilla Cuellar, Dani Danger Stoller, Mary Payne Omohundro, Katie Culligan and Karissa Swanigan-Upchurch.

Conner is also collaborating with theater artist Stephen Gregory Smith on an original children’s piece, “Eddie Allan Poe,” which will be presented as part of Creative Cauldron’s Learning program from Nov. 4 – 20. Learning Theater productions feature professional actors as mentors in a cast of elementary and middle school students.

On Saturday, Oct. 29, Creative Cauldron will host a gala Halloween party fundraiser in conjunction with the show. Attendees at The Dead Poet’s Soiree will enjoy a pre-show reception with hors d’oeuvres and wine samplings of the favorite libations of great writers of the past, tickets to the 8 p.m. performance of “Nevermore,” and a post-show reception and party with the cast. Tickets are $100 or $175 per couple.

Performances of “Nevermore” run from Oct. 7 – 30, with shows on Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $22 for students and seniors. Creative Cauldron is located at ArtSpace Falls Church, 410 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church.
Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 571-239-5288.