Edgar Allan Poe's parents were actors, but they didn't live long enough for him to have learned their profession.
Poe may have been a short-story writer, but in the Lexington Children's Theatre's revival of The MisterE of Imagination, a 2011 adaptation by the theater's artistic director Vivian Snipes, Poe has returned to his parents' domain — the stage.
Orphaned by age two, Poe was taken in by the Allan family, but had a difficult life when he reached early adulthood, clashing with his foster family over money for his education. He left college after one year because he couldn't afford it, joined the army under an assumed name, married his young cousin who later died of tuberculosis, and tried to make his living entirely from writing.
It wasn't easy. The cause of his death at age 40 is still debated and only adds to the macabre mystery surrounding the man who became known for macabre mysteries.
"Poe's life was indeed full of struggles," says Adam Luckey, who plays the woebegone author. "His relationship with his father was terrible, the important women in his life were taken from him due to illness, and as an editor, he was very unlikable.
"Vivian's script incorporates how the relationships and specific events in his life could have inspired certain works or brought about a specific mood of melancholy for the stories or poems."
The play features three of Poe's stories, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Cask of Amontillado as well as his most famous work, The Raven.
These tales are told in a nonlinear fashion, with a biographical narrative of Poe's life weaving the threads of the stories together.
"I began to realize the parallels that ran throughout the stories," Snipes said in a 2011 interview. "I knew I was also interested in inserting biographical information about the man. So after doing massive amounts of research, I took a leap and said within the three stories, these are the similar elements that could be happening at the same time, even as you tell all three stories."
Luckey says, "I see Poe's journey in this play as his struggle to be released from this world of pain and struggle. The biographical and literary aspects flow together to create one coherent story. We have used the concept of breath and breathing to connect the two."
Snipes says the theater usually waits about five years before considering reviving a production, but audience demand brought Poe back after just three years.
"We usually wait to grow a new audience," Snipes says, "but people were always asking me when we were going to bring back MisterE."
While the feedback from the previous production, which also toured schools throughout the region, was largely positive, Snipes is aware that some people prefer more standard, linear storytelling.
"I know that it's not everyone's cup of tea," Snipes says. "When I brought up the idea of a more conventional form of storytelling in an early production meeting, everyone said, 'but then it would be like what everyone else does.'"
So the nonlinear storytelling remains.
This year's show does include updates in the technical department, like enhanced scenic and lighting designs.
"I want the play to be challenging and unique," says Snipes, who says that LCT goes to great lengths to help educators prepare students to get the most out of the show.
The organization shares teaching guides on its website that include suggested activities and discussions about the material for both before and after the performance. The play guide for The MisterE of Imagination focuses heavily on deciphering the language of Poe, which includes not only plenty of onomatopoeia but also definitions of antiquated words or Latin phrases which occasionally pop up in Poe's work.
Snipes says, "We do everything we can to make sure our audiences get the most out of our productions."