The long driveway acts like a portal to Edgar Allan Poe’s time. And the mansion at the driveway’s end is the perfect scene for a murder.
Picture it: a cool October evening just as the sun sets on the gothic-style mansion and through the massive, carved-door entrance is a dimly lit great room where it’s easy to imagine a dead body on the terracotta tile. It’s an eerie setting for the macabre for which any Poe story calls.
That’s exactly why a 45-minute performance of his works will take place there from Oct. 21 through Oct. 24 and Oct. 27 through Oct. 30. Each room of the adjacent carriage house, known as the House of Horrors for this event, will be decorated to represent a Poe poem or story for a self-guided tour.
The man behind the Powel Crosley Estate’s theater program, Artistic Director Gary Mazzu, appreciates Poe more as a master of literature than for his horror-filled content. He sits at a table in the great room beneath the pecky cypress beams as he explains. The windows aren’t yet covered with dark black curtains as they will be for the performance.
“Edgar Allen Poe is one of the most amazing authors in our history,” he says.
Mazzu should know, he read about 50 hours’ worth of Poe to choose the stories they’d read this year: “Mask of the Red Death,” “The Black Cat,” “The Conqueror Worm” and “Annabel Lee.” He reads this much each time he plans a Poe reading — this is the seventh or eighth time; he has lost count.
As artistic director, Mazzu always chooses the work the actors perform — he says they’ve done around 22 or 23 classics but, again, he has lost count: Shakespeare, Dickens, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Wilde are a few examples he rattles off before pausing to flash a big toothy grin.
“You can guess I love the classics,” he says.
Mazzu started as an actor and director. He was directing Renaissance festivals and performing as a traveling Celtic musician playing guitar and penny whistle. In 2001, he moved here to live seasonally.
Shortly after moving here, Mazzu co-produced a Celtic show at the Bradenton Area Convention Center — the Visitor’s Bureau operates a second venue, the Powel Crosley Estate. Mazzu took a tour of the Powel Crosley with two of the tourism directors at the time. He stepped out into the courtyard and remarked that it would be the best place for Shakespeare. In 2004, he directed the first theater program: Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”
Mazzu prefers Christmas at the Crosley the most.
“I love the warmth of working with Charles Dickens,” he says.
When sitting in the great room, it’s easy to picture the grounds decorated in greenery; it would make a picturesque performance space for cheery Dickens. With a knockout view of the water, the grounds are also great for weddings and events.
But, this year — it’s a killer spot for murders.
“It’s going to be a mysterious year,” Mazzu says with a laugh. In January, he’s planning “Murder at the Crosley” featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work.
“Not many people know this, but Poe was the originator of the first detective story,” he says excitedly. “(His character) Auguste Dupin, was the first detective; it’s who Sir Arthur Conon Doyle modeled Sherlock Holmes on.”
Mazzu pictures Poe as a personable man — not some deranged author cooped up at late hours of the night getting drunk and smelling of opium.
Although many believe Poe died from alcohol, Mazzu thinks differently. He says Poe loved animals and has read studies that suggest Poe’s death was the result of being bit by a rabid dog. Mazzu likes to believe Poe led a fairly clean life and harbored his tortures and torments, just like anyone else.
“I think I could have hung out with Edgar Allan Poe and chatted with him,” Mazzu says. “That would have been delightful.”
Five things that inspire Gary Mazzu:
- Actors I work with —Because the actors bring their own creative energies to anything we work on together; whether it’s Shakespeare, Dickens or Oscar Wilde. Everybody brings a sense and sensibility to it that’s just a delight.
- Authors — The work of authors, most of them who are no longer with us.
- Music — The wealth of music I’ve had the opportunity to listen to and play is inspiring.
- Athletes — I’m inspired by people who in sports can attain that highest level of focus, concentration and athleticism.
- Patrick Murphy and Viola Spolin — He introduced me to her. She wrote “Improvisations for the Theatre” in the ’60s, and I worked with her in the ’70s. Her work has been tapped into and used by everyone. All of the improv troupes you see first utilized her work or offshoots of her work.
IF YOU GO
‘Poe at the Crosley’ and the House of Horrors
Live theater performance with the Poe’s House of Horrors
When: 6:30 and 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21 through Thursday, Oct. 24, and Sunday, Oct. 27, through Wednesday, Oct. 30
Where: Powel Crosley Estate, 8374 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Tickets $20; $10 for House of Horrors only
Info: Call 722-3244, Ext. 0 or visit PowelCrosleyEstate.com for more information. Tickets available at ticketmaster.com.
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