A short story as theatre is not for the faint of heart
by Christopher Lane
Sometimes torture is violent and physical, and then sometimes it is the emotional state it induces that is the most painful. The Pit and the Pendulum allows the audience to vividly imagine both of these frightful experiences.
The storytelling is the most harrowing in one climactic monologue where McCooeye’s movement is more tightly controlled, allowing the audience to focus wholly on his horrific account of mental turmoil.
The play, based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, depicts a man being interrogated by an official about his time locked up and tortured by a regime roughly akin to the Spanish Inquisition. Alex McCooeye, who adapted the story for the stage, plays the man and Leni Parker is stern and measured as the representative of a new regime who is trying to gain information from the man in order to prosecute his captors. Greg Kramer directs the two actors in this short and stark production.
McCooeye is consistently intense in his portrayal of a man traumatized by his experiences, as he strongly depicts the raw emotions and detached madness of a victim of torture. While McCooeye and Parker’s performances seem somewhat forced and unnatural at first, their steady delivery creates an eerie atmosphere that suits the subject matter of the play. The pace of the play begins slowly and builds in strength and intensity to the point where the audience is hanging onto every word of the man’s tale. McCooeye gradually becomes more animated as the play progresses, although sometimes this is to the point where his actions distract from Poe’s powerful story. The storytelling is the most harrowing in one climactic monologue where McCooeye’s movement is more tightly controlled, allowing the audience to focus wholly on his horrific account of mental turmoil.
Poe’s story is gruesome and captivating, and fortunately for the audience, much of Poe’s brilliance shows through in this adaptation. One such example of his fine writing is how the man talks about both the dramatic and the inane thoughts that ran through his mind, thus adding a stark dose of realism and humanity. Such small touches draw the audience into a story which could easily be too graphic to properly connect to.
The staging of the play is quite simple, but certain touches are highly effective. The occasional use of sound forces the audience to experience some of the prisoner’s fear. The set is uncluttered, and features a backdrop of plastic sheeting which seems to juxtapose a bland sterility with the man’s harshly visceral accounts.
Not for the faint of heart, The Pit and the Pendulum tells a powerful tale from one of history’s greatest storytellers.
It will be performed again on the 7th, 8th, 11th and 14th as a part of the Wildside Festival at Centaur Theatre.