The Lexington Children's Theatre was getting ready to produce The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe when it stumbled onto a mystery and a potentially horrifying situation for a troupe trying to produce a play. Where was the script?
The company had last produced the show in 2003 from an original script by theater producing director Larry Snipes. But it was nowhere to be found. There was no hard copy, and searches through computer hard drives yielded nothing.
Artistic director Vivian Snipes says she could find "the bare bones" of the first version of the play that they produced in the 1990s, so she started trying to re-create the script from that.
"As I began typing it all back in again to get it back into this century, I began to realize the parallels that ran throughout the stories," Snipes says. "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."
The stories were three of Poe's classics from the 1830s and '40s: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Cask of Amontillado.
Through her own writing, Snipes had been contemplating how much of a writer's own experience even goes into a work of fiction. And she started to see how the stories that Poe was telling could have roots in his life.
Snipes saw The Tell-Tale Heart — the story of a man who commits murder, buries the body beneath his floorboards and then imagines hearing the constant beating of the heart — as being self-referential. As an editor, Poe was known as "Tomahawk" for how he would cut up writers' work, and he thought they wanted to kill him.
She imagined The Cask of Amontillado — about a man who buries an enemy alive — was inspired by Poe's bad relationship with his stepfather.
"He really despised the man and wished that he could remove him from his life," Snipes says. "Then Fall of the House of Usher is about his wife's death and battle with tuberculosis."
So, in telling Poe's stories, Snipes has woven in Poe's story.
"It's hard to describe this show because it's not linear by any means," Snipes says.
The story is bookended by Poe's last days, when he was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore and was taken to a hospital, where he died four days later at age 40.
"My question is, if a life flashes before your eyes before you die, what will you see?" Snipes says.
"It gives another aspect to the show," LCT managing director Lesley Farmer says. "Not only are you going to see the stories; you're going to learn more about the man himself."
Poe is one of the Children's Theatre's touring shows this year, going to schools throughout Kentucky and its contiguous states. Snipes acknowledges that putting in more biographical information about the author could make it more marketable to educators. But really, the big selling point of the show is Poe.
"He was an amazing imaginative person," Snipes says. "He was a visual artist, he was a writer, thinking about things no one else was thinking at that time. ... He pushed the envelope on everything that he wrote."