Central Oregon native Alastair Morley Jaques, who entertained a spellbound audience at last year's recitation of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and two sold-out Edgar Allan Poe shows last October, has spent countless hours preparing to bring Poe to life once more.
"I want this to be a historically accurate and true dramatic representation of Poe as a person. He was not Vincent Price or Peter Lorre or Trent Reznor or Peter Murphy," says Jaques, "I have tried to rescue his reputation from the pop-culture quagmire that would seek to portray him as some sort of post-Emo, arm-cutting type who just wanted to write about how dark his soul was."
With a dazzling attention to detail and pitch-perfect elocution, Jaques will present his one-man show on October 29 through 31 at the Old Stone Church. Poe is most notable for his sinister stories like The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado, and his ubiquitous poem "The Raven." The trained actor's preparation for Poe has included, "lugging around Edgar Allan Poe: A Cultural Biography for countless months and reading it about six times in a row" and studying the daguerreotypes (photographic images) of the author.
"I frequently consulted them when I was preparing Poe's hair and make-up as well as putting together the costume. I have seen other actors take on Poe and get the costume and other historical details all wrong," says the 28-year-old Jaques.
In these days of sub-phonetic texting and grammatically dubious Internet chatting, Jaques is a breath of fresh (or is that Victorian?) air whose talent for captivating an audience is at times majestic. Lanky and lean with an expressive face, troubling eyes, and an esthetic he says is inspired by the works of artist Edward Gorey, Jaques can seem like an anomaly, the Old English gentlemen out of place in a modern world, but he says this isn't necessarily calculated.
"I didn't make an active choice to be how I am to get a certain effect out of people," he says.
In person Jaques, who grew up in an isolated Oregon farmhouse with elderly grandparents and now lives in another farmhouse with his wife and two young children, is elegant and affable, with a quick wit and the sort of impeccable manners that would make the Brontë sisters swoon. This childhood isolation, surrounded by books, out of date encyclopedias and stacks of old magazines, instilled in Jaques a love of literature and reading. After graduating high school, he studied literature and acting theory at both Evergreen State College in Washington and at the U of O. But even well-trained actors sometimes lose sight of their audience. He works at the COCC library, as a voice actor and an antiquarian book scout.
"I feel drawn to the 19th century, when so many of the beloved cultural institutions took root," says Jaques.
With a modern audience's affection for Poe, and slick, updated movie versions of Sherlock Holmes, Jaques says, that people still long for those times and he vows to give the people what they want.
"People think of Poe as a pale, lurking man with a moustache who wrote a poem about a scary bird that they read in high school. My audience's expectation is to be entertained in a seasonally appropriate fashion. With this in mind, I play up the creepy elements in Poe's stories and poems. Of course I always close with "The Raven." I'll never complain about that," Jaques says.
And this isn't your high school English teacher's weary old bird. Jaques brings the themes of supernatural madness into an eerie and affecting light. The actor doesn't mind if you don't understand, or even care, about the infamous poem's trochaic octameter rhyme scheme or that the poem inspired vitriol from William Butler Yeats and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and adoration from Nabokov and fellow lover of Halloween, Ray Bradbury.
"The poem remains among the most perfect poetical compositions in the English language," Jaques states. "Hamlet's soliloquy from Act III, Scene I has almost become old hat for me. "The Raven," though, still gives me a chill every time."
An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe
7pm Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Old Stone Church, 157 NW Greenwood Ave. $10/advance, $12/door.