Theatre veteran Michael Muthu believes the time is right to bring Edgar Allan Poe
Michael Muthu is every bit a theatre guy, perhaps unconsciously. His face lights up, his arms wave about in the air, and his voice goes through a spectrum of intonations. It is this very theatricality that Muthu and his Boardwalkers, one of Chennai’s oldest theatre troupes, promise in his next directorial adventure, Edgar Allan Poe – A Tribute Performance. Poe, a pioneer of the short story form, was a master of the macabre, and Mike intends to give the Chennai audience a taste of “the dark side of human nature” in the adaptations. “I love Edgar Allan Poe! Everybody who’s read Poe loves Poe,” he exclaims.
Apparently, in college he used Poe’s work for elocution events. Similarly, three years ago, he recommended that Gokul Anand, a member of the current cast, use Poe’s work for his audition to an acting school in Singapore. On Gokul’s return to Chennai, a Poe production seemed simply inevitable. And while Muthu expects to see Poe fans as an integral part of the audience, he is confident that the horror genre will be appreciated. “The Chennai audience is very astute and well-read. Poe is the American equivalent of Shakespeare. His pieces are about fear and madness, about sin, about things you do for the spirit of perverseness.” This, he hopes, will pull in diverse sections of the crowd.
Method to madness
Alternating between short stories and poems, Muthu promises performance-based pieces. The former includes The Pit and the Pendulum and The Black Cat, and the latter includes Spirits of the Dead and Bridal Ballad. He deems them the best of Poe and suited for adaptation. He emphasises that his would be unlike other monologue productions that have minimal props. “The show is a complete theatrical experience! We have sets, costumes, makeup, lights and sounds effects, and we’ve created a background for each story with additional lines.” Known widely for his production of the rock opera, Jesus Christ Super Star, Muthu acknowledges that directing horror was one of his biggest challenges. “Performance is different from reading,” he points out, when asked about the difficulty of recreating the shock value of a story everyone is familiar with. “I try to tell my story as truthfully as I can, and the audience takes home what they want.” He laughs at the suggestion that this is the “Mike Method” of direction. “Look at the logic, be truthful to what happens onstage, and give it your best shot,” he sums up.
Muthu approves of the current theatre milieu in Chennai. “It is healthy and going well. We definitely need a theatre hub here,” he says, adding that he hopes to create a dedicated space for it soon in the city. He has more in mind for himself and Boardwalkers. “Movies,” he declares, “are the next logical step.” But then, “nothing can replace a live performance. The energy from it is greater than from a film,” he concedes. The Buzz—Edgar Allan Poe—A Tribute Performance by Boardwalkers is being presented at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture, Chennai, tomorrow.
— Aswini Sivaraman