Toasting Poe's (203rd) Birthday
Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849)
David Keltz as Edgar Allan Poe
A Poe Birthday Celebration Performance with David Keltz
The Theosophical Society
523 N. Charles Street , Baltimore, Maryland
Friday January 20: 8 pm ; Saturday January 21: 2 pm & 8 pm
The Poe Toaster may no longer raise a glass of cognac in salute and place three roses on his Westminster Church gravesite, but Edgar Allan Poe's birthday is still remembered and honored by countless fans and admirers in the city where Poe lived, courted his future wife, and found his final resting place (alongside his aunt, Maria Clemm, and wife, Virginia). Indeed, the Edgar Allan Poe Birthday Celebration has been a perennial tradition in Baltimore since 1980. So, on Saturday, January 21, Poe groupie Amy Linthicum (wearing her stylish Edgar Allan Poe necklace) and I paid our belated best wishes to EAP by attending David Keltz's incredible one-man show (in costume and character, edited from Poe's very own words) at the Baltimore Theosophical Society. (A portion of the proceeds from his three performances were donated to the fiscally challenged Poe House and Museum to help keep it open.)
BTS is an institution that I know little about, but their mission statement says it is dedicated to investigating "the nature of the universe and humanity's place in it," promoting understanding of other cultures, and being "a nucleus of universal brotherhood among all human beings" (a designation that I suppose includes even Republicans and telemarketers), so it sounds like an entirely reasonable and admirable group to me.
By contrast, I know a lot about David Keltz. The Baltimore actor gave his first performance as Edgar Allan Poe on Halloween night 1991 at Poe's grave and has honed his craft in countless performances over the years (in addition to one-man shows celebrating D. H. Lawrence, H. L. Mencken, Captain John Smith and others), even essaying Poe as a bingo card player in Jane King and Jeff Alphin's charmingly clever 16mm film short The Bingo Caller (as pictured above left). And while I've seen many excellent Poe performances over the years by a who's who of outstanding local actors - from Tony Tsendeas and Mark Redfield to Mark S. Sanders (star of the one-man play "A Portrait of Poe") and John "Gomez" Astin's remarkable performance in Paul Day Clemens and Ron Magid's play "Once Upon a Midnight Dreary" - none tops that of David Keltz. His is the face and his is the voice I associate with Poe, as if it's indelibly stamped in my mind. That's why, when I see him around town in his street clothes shopping at Eddie's or milling about the American Visionary Art Museum's gift shop, it always throws me for a loop (you just don't expect to see Poe shopping for groceries or knick-knacks!).
Over the course of the next hour, David Keltz brought Edgar Allan Poe to life in stirring performances of "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "To Helen," "Annabel Lee" and, fittingly - since the Baltimore Ravens football team was playing the Boston Patriots for the AFC Championship the next day - "The Raven." (Though given their subsequent heart-breaking loss, the Raven's "Nevermore" quip may be the final word on Ray Lewis's quest for a second Super Bowl ring.)
Watch David Keltz perform "The Raven."
Though Saturday's matinee ran roughly 60 minutes, Keltz can do up to five hours reciting and reenacting Poe's canon of poems, short stories, essays, literary criticism, letters, and reported conversations.
Immediately after Keltz's performance and a brief Q& A, a guitarist named Larry (Schectel?) played a song about Poe. Amy liked him right away because, like her, he was a lefty. Larry's song, which he stayed up composing just the night before, took the point of view of Poe's last day in Baltimore, wandering the streets and taverns of Fell's Point; he later apologized to Keltz if his verses about Poe imbibing various alcoholic beverages made him sound like an alcoholic. (No worries, didn't the bard himself once quip "Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today!"?)
After the show, the audience was invited to mingle with the performers to share light refreshments and this delicious cake from Herman's Bakery (a Dundalk culinary landmark according to Dundalk-native Amy):
Quoth the Raven: "Eat me, forevermore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Smalltimore": Guitarist Larry looked familiar to me; at first, I thought it was just his uncanny resemblance to British actor Bill Nighy, but then I realized I had talked to him before at my workplace across the street, the Enoch Pratt Central Library. Larry was a Jeff Beck fan, and before the show we had talked about Beck's tenure with The Yardbirds; Larry even played some Beck riffs on his acoustic guitar (though he admitted Beck sounded much better on his Stratocaster). And, this being Smalltimore, it turned out Amy had a connection to Larry as well. Larry was friends with her former Crabtree & Evelyn co-worker Lucy (a fact I learned two days later when both Lucy and Larry visited the library!).
Lefty Larry sang and played his toast to Poe
The cake was yummy, but we limited ourselves to small portions, as we planned to continue our tribute to Poe by having dinner later at Canton's Poe-themed restaurant The Annabel Lee Tavern, home of the famous duck-fat fries - not to mention David Keltz's favorite drink, the bourbon, ginger and bitters-laced "Spectacle". Keltz commented that the drink referred to one of Poe's lesser known humorous works, his 1850 story ("The Spectacles") about a myopic who's too vain to wear his glasses - and as a result ends up marrying his grandmother! (After quaffing a few Spectacles, I'm sure the mistake could be made again at the Annabel Lee Tavern - good thing it's not located near a nursing home!)
Annabel Lee Tavern
So, our appetites whetted, we bid our fellow Poe Toasters adieu - but not before Amy's requisite photo op with the day's star!
David Keltz and "Poe Groupie" Amy Linthicum
For more information about David Keltz, visit the links below or call 410-669-6582.
David Keltz Links:
David Keltz as Poe (official site)
Study Guide for David Keltz's Poe Performance (.pdf)
David Keltz on Facebook
Watch "The Bingo Caller" (Jane King & Jeff Alphin)