Edgar Allan Poe returning from the dead for two nights
SPRINGFIELD — The idea had been buried in Wayne Justice’s brain for 13 years.
But maybe because it pertained to Edgar Allan Poe, that idea refused to die.
It kept scratching to get out.
Finally, a year ago, the Springfield resident decided to remove everything from the floorboards of his mind and assemble “Edgar,” a multimedia theatrical presentation of Poe’s famously grim stories and poems.
Set to premiere Sept. 9-10 at the State Theatre before traveling to Cincinnati’s Clifton Performance Theatre for two additional nights, Justice hopes that, from there, his new show just keeps beating like the tell-tale heart.
He said there’s already interest in the show from theaters in several states.
That should be welcoming news to anyone who fears that the art of reading has been given a premature burial.
Justice, 37, created the show with only one goal in mind.
“I hope people go home and read Poe,” he said.
The format hardly matters.
After all, as Justice noted, you can now get every word of Poe for free on your iPhone.
He just wants to entice people enough to download the app or — the horror — crack open a book.
“I’ve been a Poe fan since my creative writing class in high school,” said Justice, a Shawnee High School grad.
“He always used language that intrigued me. He just has a way of twisting a story around so that there's several levels to it.
“It’s worth every word you read.”
Of course, there’s also the fact that Justice is a freak — so says his wife, Crystal Justice.
“Wayne doesn’t like sunny weather,” she explained. “If it’s a dark and rainy day, he’s happier.”
“I’m in my element,” he added.
So it’s probably not surprising to learn that the work of Poe — macabre tales such as “The Raven” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” — immediately resonated.
Would you believe he also loves Halloween best?
“When we were dating,” Crystal said, “he couldn’t wait for it to get cold. Once it got cold, he got out his Edgar Allan Poe books, and he’s done that every autumn.”
Having been involved for years with community theater, adapting Poe’s work to the stage just seemed like a natural next step for Justice.
He got the idea that Poe, who died in 1849, could be brought back to life this way when actor John Astin, most famous for playing Gomez Addams, brought the one-man show “Edgar Allan Poe: Once Upon a Midnight” to Kuss Auditorium in 1998.
“It started when I met John Astin,” Justice said. “I always loved John Astin. I always loved Edgar Allan Poe.”
Unfortunately, Justice was a new father with no extra money to see the show.
But his theater connections paid off and a friend arranged for Justice to meet Astin backstage at Kuss.
“I have a picture of him holding my infant daughter,” Justice said.
The two talked about their mutual love of Poe before Astin left him with the words of encouragement that started him down this path.
“He said, ‘Maybe you’ll do this one day,’ ” Justice recalled.
There was just one problem with that.
“I didn’t think I’d make a very good Poe,” he confessed. “I don’t look like him.”
For “Edgar,” Justice has opted to direct, thus leaving the role of Poe to his friend, Shane Smith.
“He will bring an intensity to Poe that will surprise people,” Justice said.
A handful of video previews made by Justice to promote the show are, sure enough, delightfully creepy.
A 15-minute video starring Smith begins each performance of “Edgar.”
“The purpose of the film is to show that Poe was more than just a drunk writer of horror,” Justice said.
“He was those things, but he also was somebody who strived for happiness. He could never quite find that happiness.
“You kind of feel sorry for him and you’re kind of scared of him all at the same time.”
Not unlike a guy who owns several versions of Poe’s complete work because each contains subtle word differences and the varying fonts each set a different mood.
“When we first started dating,” Crystal said, “he wouldn’t let me read his books because I broke the binding.”
“We have two ‘Hobbits,’ too,” she added, “because I can’t read his.”