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Steppenwolf for Young Adults: Lady Madeline

Steppenwolf associate artist Jessica Thebus, Mickle Maher and Andre Pluess discuss Lady Madeline, their musical re-imagining of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, a Steppenwolf for Young Adults production playing the weekends of February 11-26, 2006. Jessica Thebus: Let’s talk about the role of music in Lady Madeline. Andre, initially you and I were excited just about the idea of adding music to a Gothic theatrical world. Andre Pluess: Yes. In Poe’s writing in general, but specifically in Usher, there’s immediate interest because of the sonic imagery and the oral atmospheric landscape that’s already linked to the text, it’s so meditative and haunting. The Fall of the House of Usher really allows us to explore the intersection between what is more traditionally musical and what is more abstract sound. Does literal sound kind of turn into a musicality in the landscape of this Gothic world? And then, Poe is really exciting because the subject matter is incredibly hyper-real, dealing with death and the afterlife, and the border between the two. It’s a sound designer/composer’s dream. Mickle Maher: Distinct from some of the other stories that Poe wrote, this one has sound at its very core. There are so many great images in the story: the house reflected in the lake, all the rooms inside of it, the image of Madeline Usher coming up the stairs through the huge doors, the house falling into the tide. Think about the first time we meet Roderick as a character. If you look at the description of his face given by the narrator, it’s one of the best physical descriptions of a character not only in Poe, but in almost anything I’ve read. AP: I love the music that Roderick plays. It’s obvious that he’s not just sitting down playing standard pieces of classical music. He’s hearing things and creating in a completely different key. JT: Music is intrinsic to the character development, too. Roderick has this exquisite sensitivity to sound, he can only bear to hear certain tones. We don’t know why that particular arrangement of things is palatable to him, but it’s like the interior of his mind is reflected not only in the house but in the sound and the music that he makes. It’s such a great invitation to specific music and sound. I have always had this feeling about Poe’s language, that he would be so appealing to young audiences. It’s the fantasy, the intensity of the imagination, the drenched atmosphere and emotion of the stories. This is a really great opportunity to take that quality from The Fall of the House of Usher, and make manifest the impassioned fever of creating and the terrifying fever of living that this artist was experiencing through words, images, sound and music. From The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe: “Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that I could bring myself to admit the identity of the wan being before me with the companion of my early boyhood. Yet the character of his face had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely molded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity; these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten. And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous luster of the eye, above all things startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect its arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.”