University of Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players will present an audio production of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” available for streaming between Oct. 27 and Nov. 14.
According to REP, “In this grisly story, all of Paris is shocked by the horrifying murders of a mother and daughter. Their bodies are viciously brutalized – one decapitated, one dreadfully slashed and wedged up the chimney. Multiple witnesses heard the murderer but give contradicting reports. Police are baffled at the nearly supernatural strength of the murderer and are left with no evidence as to how the criminal entered or escaped the scene.”
REP founding member Michael Gotch is at the helm of the production as its director and script adaptor.
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” isn’t Gotch’s first foray into modern audio adaptations of classical stories. Last year, Gotch was responsible for REP’s radio adaptation of “Dracula,” which the troupe says “terrified and delighted listeners.”
The transition to audio format happened as a result of pandemic-related restrictions that meant the REP couldn’t perform before a live audience.
Many theatre troupes transitioned to Zoom plays and recorded video productions, but Gotch saw an opportunity to return to an older form of American entertainment.
“The primary way that a family or an individual was able to witness something dramatic was the radio play in the 1930s and 40s,” Gotch said, “So, I thought, we’ve done it before in the world, ‘why not return to that and see if we can exercise that muscle of both our audience and our actors who only have the ability to listen to something?’”
In the radio format, he said, the imagination does most of the work, but adapting to this non-visual medium has not come without its challenges.
“It can be difficult if you’re not used to writing in that form,” Gotch said. “There’s not a lot of contemporary examples of it to draw from. You kind of have to start from scratch and do a bit of a historical deep dive into what that form is, what works well with it and what doesn’t.”
He has to use imagery, description and strong characterization to paint pictures in listeners’ minds rather than setting scenes on stage — but Gotch believes “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is well suited for a production of this kind.
“I think stories like this gothic tale and writers like Edgar Allan Poe lend themselves really well to dramatization because they have such vivid plots as well as an element of the uncanny,” Gotch said. “Even if you’re not a horror aficionado, these stories are vibrant in the drama at their core. In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” there’s a lot of gold to mine, for the listening audience and for an artist trying to do a new version of it.”
The production comes as REP’s artistic director and founder, Sandy Robbins, approaches his retirement.
After 33 years at the University of Delaware and 13 seasons with the REP, the Theatre Department chair is planning his departure from his official duties.
“I think that that story has yet to be written on what the REP looks like without Sandy Robbins,” Gotch said. “He’s so powerfully committed to creating theater that lasts in the minds of both its audience and future audiences that even in his leaving, he’s left us such a strong foundation from which to continue that pursuit and continue that growth.”
The production will be available to stream online for free — an ode Robbins’ desire to make professional theatre available to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Gotch said that live theatre can be so expensive to produce that it often becomes cost-prohibitive for folks who would benefit from the art but can’t afford to access professional productions.
“Only certain economic class levels can really afford a $400 front row ticket to the Lion King on Broadway, for example,” he said. “We really think of the theatre as a community resource — a human resource — that needs to be as accessible as the air we breathe in some ways, or like a library.”
The “spine-tingling tale” will be released just in time for Halloween and can be accessed at this link.
The REP plans to return to the live stage performance format in the Spring.
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