When bad things happen to good birds
Raven flies through rough night on Eaton Road
Seated comfortably in the former Eaton Road Opera House, I admired the fine, cartoonish, Gothic set, which was enhanced by swirls of smoke machine fog drifting around the softly distorted and dreamily skewed stonework of the Vincent family tomb.
Things started well, with a fine dramatic reading by Brian D. Miner of the Edgar Allen Poe poem that inspired Chicoan Jerry Miller’s musical play. It was a nice strategic as well as aesthetic move, since familiarity with the poem is essential to appreciating the action of the play. Then, from deep in the shadows at the rear of the stage the band played an overture of the show’s musical themes, which range stylistically from ‘50s-era rock to ‘60s soul music to classic blues—in intention, anyway.
After the overture the entire ensemble winds onto the stage for a scene-setting production number about the birds and bees feeling fine. Then the story itself really begins to unfold with the introduction of brothers Allen (Paul Wrona) and Edgar (Brian D. Miner) Vincent as they stroll the grounds of their estate extolling the contradictory virtues of the women they both hope to marry, unaware that they’re speaking of the same person. The Buddy Holly/Everly Brothers-style duet “Coquette” sums up the brothers’ feelings about the object of their mutual desires.
Then the play reveals its dual nature by switching to a scene involving a troop of ravens (or a murder of crows) that inhabit the branches of the Vincent Estate. The ravens are a crass and earthy bunch given to domestic squabbles and grand passions, the grandest of which are manifested by Tina (Gina Henson Tropea) and Tommy (Mario Magana), two young lovers who are in the process of cohabitating their first nest. It was unfortunate that on the night I attended the couple’s big duet, “Glide,” was crippled by a malfunctioning microphone, but the spirit of the song came across despite the technical difficulties.
Meanwhile, the humans have discovered difficulties of their own involving the identity of the brothers’ mutual love. The dilemma is soothed if not fixed by the wise old woman, Mrs. McGillicuddy (Crystal Szymanski), the family’s domestic servant. A comic contest between the brothers further establishes their personalities and reveals the lovely Lenore (Melody Harding) to be a crafty manipulator of the male psyche. Wedding plans proceed apace with dire consequences for Tommy the raven, who winds up as a fashionable addition the bridal costume.
Closing the first act, the theme of the consequences of interspecies violence becomes more overt as a distraught and angry Tina takes fatal revenge on the murderer of her beloved Tommy.
The second act is concerned with transmigration of souls, revenge and redemption. The main characters, having been through painfully transformative experiences, must find solace or death, or both. Lenore’s song about a “Widow’s Pain” is superceded by her own (prat)fall into oblivion, which leads to a bitter revenge upon the flock of ravens, which leads to a semi-comic reenactment of Poe’s poem from inside the perspective of the play’s characters.
And somehow that leads to the show’s grand-finale production number, which pulls out all the stops on hippy idealism and cosmic unity and general lovey-doveyness for everyone concerned despite all the death and anger and general unjustness of everything.
The Raven is, in short, a fine Halloweenish work of musical comedy with idealistic aspirations, some fine performances and quite a few good songs. It may be a bit muddled in its attempts to foist its ambitions on an ungrateful, war-torn world, but it certainly deserves accolades for even aspiring to bring the cosmic drama to the musical-comedy stage.