Eric Frantz, Kelly Moore, & Tony Dingman in Dream Within A Dream. Photo: Belle of Louisville

Dream Within A Dream: A Journey With Edgar Allan Poe

Directed and conceived by Tony Dingman, Eric Franz, Kelly Moore
Presented by the Belle of Louisville
Works by Edgar Allan Poe

A review by Regina Harris

Entire contents are copyright @2023 by Regina Harris. All rights reserved. 

Most Louisvillians live for the first Saturday in May, but anyone who knows me even just a little, knows that I live 11 months of the year for Spooky Season. I have a few traditions for celebrating October, which culminates with my birthday just before my favorite holiday: decorating my porch with jack-o’ lanterns; buying more Halloween decorations than any human needs; making at least two runs to Caufield’s; taking an evening stroll up Hillcrest Avenue; and planning a killer Halloween party for the kids in my afterschool program, all the while shamelessly indulging in pumpkin spice lattes and apple cider topped with whipped cream. 

In recent years, my family and I have attended whatever scary play Kentucky Shakespeare is doing (and will continue to do so) but for many years prior, we kicked off the season with the Frazier Museum”s Edgar Allan Poe dramatizations. Admittedly, I had lost track of that event prior to the Big Shut Down and was surprised to be offered the opportunity to review Dream Within a Dream: A Journey with Edgar Allan Poe on the Belle of Louisville. I’m not sure why I was convinced this iteration was not going to be performed by its originators. I was a bit wary of what sort of gig I was stepping into when I boarded the Belle, which I (unjustly) consider to be somewhat of a party venue. Being a little prone to motion sickness as well as having been traumatized by The Poseidon Adventure as a kid, I was unsure about a boat trip on the Ohio River in the dark. So, I showed up mainly to cross “Haunted Boat Ride” off my Halloween to do list and hoped whoever was performing it would do even just a little justice to the original.

I was truly overjoyed to pick up a program and see that the original writers and actors of these dramatizations – Tony Dingman, Eric Franz, and Kelly Moore – had simply stepped away for a bit and are now remounting their distinctive creation (for the second year, duh) – and I had lucked into one of only a couple of tickets, if any, left for Thursday’s night’s performance. 

The large space of the vessel’s second level is transformed into a theatre-in-the-round under the original 1914 decorative ceiling and above the original hardwood floor. Heavy red velvet drapes separate the theatre from a themed art show in the space behind it (more about that later). The lighting is low, evoking candlelight and some folks came dressed in Ann Rice-inspired costumes, adding to the haunting vibe. A delightfully scary and unearthly melody wafts through the space, sounding as though it is being played by spectral hands on a slightly out of tune piano somewhere else in time. The atmosphere is completely transcendent – and this is before the performance even begins.

In a city chock full of talented actors and playwrights, Tony Dingman, Eric Franz, and Kelly Moore are three of the most talented creators of stage performance in Louisville. Having watched them work together and individually over the last 20 or so years, it is stunning to witness how much this enormously talented group has grown and developed even further as performers. In their deft hands, I felt absolutely transported into Poe’s ghastly realm. 

Among my favorite pieces was “The Bells”, in which the trio chimed their voices individually and collectively in various bell tones, from light and jingly to heavy and deep. It was magical.

In “The Raven”, Franz provides a heart-wrenching portrayal of a man completely alone in his study, mourning for his lost love Lenore, when an enigmatic raven suddenly appears. Moore, with her darkly outlined eyes and jerky head movements, channels the raven perfectly.

Also using purely verbal and physical cues, Dingman and Franz bring some comic relief to “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” Dingman’s quirky portrayal of Detective Dupin, bouncing his theories about the murder of a young woman off Franz, an eager-to-please assistant, was not originally written by Poe comedically. The fun exists purely in their comparatively cheerful interpretation.

Physical interpretation is a large part of the brilliance of these performances. The space is small and the scenery is virtually non-existent save for a couple of chairs, a side table, and a few props. In lesser hands, this could be a bore. The enchantment of the scenes exists almost solely in their facial, physical, and vocal intentions exciting my own imagination. Effective use of minimal lighting beaming up from the sides of the stage is constant and most notable in the pinnacle of the evening, “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Set in WWI to match the era of the Belle (and utilizing the constant low thrum of the boat’s engines underneath for tension) Dingman provides a brilliant and jarring performance as a soldier in a situation difficult for him to define, pantomiming his way around the stage in abstract fashion as Franz’s voice richly narrates the dark prose. Moore renders a threatening figure onstage, whose purpose is unstated but unnerving. I can’t overstate the feeling that this is one of the most beautiful and evocative pieces I have seen onstage – probably ever. This group melds their unique talents into some of the most stirring theatre to exist in an already theatre-rich city. 

The other works included in the collection are equally well done: “The Conqueror Worm”, “Alone”, “Ulalume”, and “The City in the Sea”. In retrospect, it is hard to believe I had so much fun given the overall theme of…death. But then again, Spooky Season.

The slight but impactful set and lighting designs are provided by Lionel Nasby and Ellie Archer respectively; the potent sound effects are by Rhythm Science Sound. 

I also want to mention the cool art exhibit behind the red velvet curtain. Local artists Abigail Stowers, as well as Nick and Suzie Seas (aka The Dead Seas), provide visual treats that are well worth checking out. Eric Franz (who also serves as the Guest and Education Programs Manager of the Belle of Louisville) has a goal of bringing more performance and visual art to the Belle, making it a destination venue for theatre, music, and other arts events. I look forward to that.

There is a waiting list for tickets for this run of Dream Within a Dream: A Journey with Edgar Allan Poe, so good luck if you hope to see it this year. My best advice is to jump on the opportunity as soon as tickets become available next year, and hopefully, there will be many more than four performances in the future. 

Dream Within a Dream: A Journey with Edgar Allan Poe

October 4, 5, 6, 7

Belle of Louisville 
Boarding begins at 7 PM
Gallery access, Cash Bar and concessions
Showtime: 8:00 PM – 10:30 PM (with 15 minute intermission)

Belle of Louisville
401 W. River Road
Louisville, KY 40207

Regina Harris has lived in Louisville for nearly three decades and has, at various times, worked for many of its premier theatre companies and venues. She earned a degree in Humanities from University of Louisville and currently works as a Youth Development Specialist at United Crescent Hill Ministries. To express her love for great food as well as Louisville history and architecture, she is a tour guide with Louisville Food Tours.