Corn on the Macabre: Scena?s Poe Double Feature is in on its own joke.

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There are worse ways to pass a chilly wet November night than steeping yourself in the unabashed, über-gothic gloom of Scena’s Edgar Allan Poe twofer. There’s a decidedly emo joy to be found in the way Steven Berkoff’s Usher adaptation savors the chewy aural delights of Poe’s overripe language. Eric Messner, playing Roderick Usher as the consumptive progeny of Robert Smith and Norma Desmond, sends his voice slithering over dialogue rich with such Bard-of-Balmer chestnuts as “melancholy,” “miasma,” “sickly vapours” and, especially, “phantasmagoria.” Watch how he throws wide his puffy, moth-eaten pirate sleeves to assume the persona of the titular domicile, which then describes itself as “decayed—but not unstable,” and bitch about a nearby pond as the “black, lurid, and sullen tarn.” Scena Artistic Director Robert McNamara’s staging contains several nicely imagined set pieces, with Messner’s Usher and Colleen Delany’s Madelaine continually turning themselves into assorted bits of architecture or entangling themselves together in a variety of disquieting ways. Not all of this works—a scene in which they lurch across the floorboards, only to get the St. Vitus jitters as they near each other, just lays there, and a meta-moment in which Usher and his friend, played by David Bryan Jackson, discover a copy of Fall of the House of Usher in the house’s library doesn’t add enough to justify its presence. Mostly, though, McNamara and his actors get the tone right: like the Dracula currently stalking the Synetic stage, this Usher is in on its own joke. And yet it manages to find several moments to creep you out—moments that owe as much to Marianne Meadows’ inventively varied lighting design as to Delany’s ability to let loose a scream you’ll feel in your sickly vapours. After the intermission, however, McNamara proceeds to declaim The Tell Tale Heart in a manner that…well, your mileage may vary (a colleague liked it fine), but that came off to me as fussy, telegraphed, and overdone. McNamara rrrrrrolls his Rs and indicates the hell out of every line (e.g., pointing to his eye when the dialogue contains the word “eye”, waggling his hands on the word “terror,” etc.) and yeah, sure, that’s part of the gag. But such a hammy approach springs the trap of Poe’s tightly written little tale at the outset and never allows any of its tension to return.