Jeffrey Combs has been a mainstay in the horror genre for decades. This weekend he’ll be one of the featured guests at Rock and Shock in Worcester, MA (October 17-19), promoting his performance of Nevermore in Boston on October 31.
Nevermore is a one-man performance in which Combs channels Edgar Allan Poe. The show will be held in the Somerville Theater, Somerville, MA, on Halloween night at 8 p.m. This is a performance that is not to be missed. Combs is unforgettable in the role of Poe. Interested parties can purchase tickets here. A ticket to the Nevermore performance also entitles the bearer to a screening of Masque of the Red Death, which will be shown after Nevermore.
Combs discussed what audiences can expect when attending a Nevermore performance. “What we try to do is an imaginary recital,” Combs said. “In Poe’s day, that’s really the only way writers could augment their incomes. There was really no such thing as royalties. You sold your story or book once, and that was it. So a lot of writers in his day would hold recitals. They would hold forth in front of a paying audience and read their material or other people’s material. Kind of like a public appearance.”
However, in Combs’ performance things go a bit awry for the legendary writer. “Ours is a little bit different,” Combs said. “It starts out traditionally. If you know anything about Poe, he was kind of his own worst enemy. It corkscrews into self-destruction. He pulls out a bottle at one point, and that’s the catalyst to open the floodgates of frustration at other writers and the situation in America, his own biography, what’s going on in his life. It becomes a raw nerve. And, fortunately, at the end, he rallies and pulls himself together with some kind of grace and poise.”
Combs talked about the various sides of his version of Edgar Allan Poe. “It’s not your traditional ‘wasn’t that sweet’ sort of thing,” Combs says of Nevermore. “Having said that, there’s quite a bit of humor. Poe was quite a witty guy. Whenever I say I do a one-man show of Poe, people’s eyes glass over, and they think that might be a very dark evening indeed. But he had many colors on his palette. I liken him to America’s Van Gogh. A very complex man. I’m only scratching the surface with my little guesstimation. My Poe is sort of the dark version of what Hal Holbrook does with Mark Twain. In fact, he came to see my show, and I cherish that so much. He actually came and saw my show in Los Angeles. It meant so much to me.”
As they have frequently in the past, Combs and Stuart Gordon conceived this project together. “We first started performing Nevermore in 2009,” Combs said. “This all started when I did an episode of the Showtime series “Masters of Horror”. Stuart Gordon was directing and asked me to play Poe in an episode called “The Black Cat.” When we were on set, he kept saying, ‘You’ve gotta do a one-man show.’ And I kept saying, ‘Get outta here. Get outta my face. Not interested.’ So a couple of years go by when he gently, like Yoda, kept prodding me. So I finally asked him what it would be like. He kind of came up with a format, and long story short, we acquired a small black box theater in L.A. and had a four-week run that exploded into six months. Over the course of the next year or so, I was invited to do it all over the country. I’ve been to Alamo Drafthouse. I went to Fantasia in Montreal. I was invited to Baltimore to do it for Poe’s bicentennial as part of that celebration, right next to where he’s buried. That was a huge honor. Nashville, Lincoln Center, San Diego…and now Boston, Poe’s birthplace.”
With a career as long and storied as Combs’ has been, it carries particular weight to hear him talk about how much this role means to him. “It truly is one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done,” Combs said. “The whole structure of the evening, about 85 to 90 percent of what I say, is Poe’s words from his essays, letters, poems. I keep discovering things every time I do it. It doesn’t get stale basically because Poe is so vibrant and so complex and there are so many facets to him that it’s kind of like doing Shakespeare. Every time you do it, you go, ‘Whoa, I didn’t hear that before.’ But there it is. My God, it’s layers upon layers of meaning. It’s just the gift that keeps on giving.”
So what does it take to transform from mild-mannered Jeffrey Combs into fiery Edgar Allan Poe? “An actor prepares,” Combs said. “The hardest thing is to get my stamina up. I’ve got to up my treadmill because it’s quite an energetic evening. Poe being Poe, I get pretty wound up. I’ve got to have my body and my voice and my emotion…one of the hardest things to do is to zero down into Poe mode. When I was in my long run, my wife was like, ‘Why are you so depressed or so…’ Melancholy, that was the word. And I was. Well, that’s because… Poe. You sort of stay in the zone. Nothing crazy. I mean, I’m not out in the street taking my underwear around my ankles screaming at the stars or anything. But there’s sort of a cone you buy into. As I get closer to this performance, that’s something I’m going to have to circle around and live with for a little bit.”
To help promote the October 31 performance of Nevermore, Combs is returning to Rock and Shock in Worcester, MA, for the convention on October 17-19. He speaks fondly of the convention itself and his memories of past appearances there. “I was there the first year. I was one of their first guests,” Combs said proudly. “Gina Migliozzi and the organizers are great! I didn’t know them when I first went there, and you never know when you go to these things; you go, ‘Who are these people?’ But they’re just so genuine. They put on such a great convention. It’s been years since I’ve been back. I went there the first year, and maybe two or three years later I went back. I always have a great time. They’re imaginative and they have such a great hybrid with the music and the fan base as well. Great locale, good people. I’m really looking forward to going back. I think it’s one of the premier events in the country. It’s really grown into that.”