REVIEW: The Masque – Stories of Edgar Allan Poe @Verbballets


By Elsa Johnson & Victor Lucas

Artists are often said to be universal, for all time and all people, but Edgar Allan Poe has become one of those seasonal figures we roll out on Halloween.

For Halloween this year, Verb collaborated with Shadowbox Live, a resident theater company based in Columbus, to produce the world premiere of The Masque: the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. The Shadowbox Live band, Light, performed their score live and the Verb dancers provided choreography and dancing to fill out the evening length rock ballet.

Shadowbox Live actor Tom Cardinal, the spitting image of a sober, sane Poe, provided narration that set up the scenario in which Prince Prospero followed Red Death from room to room in the doomed palace. Each room or scene alluded to a Poe story or poem; Annabel Lee, Fall of the House of Usher, The Bells, The Raven, Eleanora, The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether, and The Pit and the Pendulum.

This production brought considerable resources to bear. In addition to the Verb dancers, all of whom continue to dance very well, 2 former Verb dancers, Katie Gnagy and Antwon Duncan, performed as Guest Artists, with Gnagy particularly effective in her cloak as Red Death. Costumed supernumeraries were recruited from Verb’s Dance For Everyone Program. LINK. Costume Designer Janet Bolick provided ball gowns which looked wonderful despite the hard wear Verb’s women subjected them to, rolling and crawling through The Masque.

For all these resources, The Masque was not our favorite Verb program. Perhaps Trad A. Burns’ lighting was too dark, diminishing the effect of the dancing and the costumes. Perhaps choreography by the Verb dancers, interesting enough in a Fresh Inventions program, was not up to this program’s demand for atmosphere and narrative content.

Part of the problem with The Masque was the repetitive nature of its episodic narrative. In each scene, generic carrying-on ends with Red Death killing everyone. The evening can’t develop; it can hardly even vary.

But many in the audience stayed to the end and cheered long and loud.

Verb Ballets and Shadowbox Live performed at Breen Center on 11/8/2013.

Next up for Verb, 2 world premieres at Breen Center 2/22/2014. Go to for tickets and more information.

[Photo: Elisha Cerino]


From Cool Cleveland contributors Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas. Elsa and Vic are both longtime Clevelanders. Elsa is a landscape designer. She studied ballet as an avocation for 2 decades. Vic has been a dancer and dance teacher for most of his working life, performing in a number of dance companies in NYC and Cleveland. They write about dance as a way to learn more and keep in touch with the dance community. E-mail them at


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One Response to “REVIEW: The Masque – Stories of Edgar Allan Poe @Verbballets”

  1. Mark Horning

    I cannot disagree with you more. Having attended a majority of Verb Ballets performances over the past years I felt that this production was the best that they have ever done. The reason for the lighting was the fact that it is Poe! His writing is dark and Trad hit it perfectly. Although as a photographer (I believe that is one of my photos at the top) I would have loved having more light at least during the dress rehearsal, I felt it was atmospheric. As for all the death, I suggest you read some of Poe. All of his stuff ends in death (even his love poems). Thank goodness he never wrote any children’s books. Spoiler Alert: I would suggest you avoiding Shakespeare also. Rumor has it that a lot of people die in his stuff also. Check out my review at:

    Thanks! Mark Horning

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