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Richmond honors Edgar Allan Poe with an international conference and actor John Astin's one-man show.

Commemorating Poe


John Astin was creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky. OK, he was altogether ooky in the "Addams Family." These days, however, the actor "quoth the raven" and nothing more as he portrays Edgar Allan Poe in the one-man-play "Once Upon a Midnight."

Richmonders can see this enactment of Poe's life at 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 8 at Theatre IV. It is part of the International Edgar Allan Poe Conference, which is being held Oct. 7 to Oct. 10 at the Jefferson Hotel to honor the sesquicentennial of Poe's death, says John Moon, executive director of Richmond's Poe Museum.

The conference, sponsored by the Poe Studies Association, will comprise 40 sessions during which 120 papers on different aspects of Poe's life will be presented. Poe experts from across the United States and from such countries as Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan and Singapore will take part in the event. "The Poe world is coming to Richmond to help honor Poe 150 years after he died," Moon says.

The play has been running in various cities since 1995 and has had much support from Poe scholars, Astin says. He feels this is a true testament to the quality of the production. "The approval of the scholars is important to me," Astin says. "Many of them truly love Poe. The appreciation for him is there."

In the play, Poe returns to Earth as an angel who, in his own words, wants to "lay his heart bare." He attempts to set the record straight concerning his life and his literary works. Consequently, as he tells his life story, his works emerge.

"He ultimately demonstrates his life was his work and his work was his life," Astin says.

Poe's life, however, was often a troubled one. He lost his parents at a young age, spent much of his life in debt and battled alcohol addiction. Despite his troubles, or maybe because of them, his contributions to literature were great. He is commonly credited with the invention of the modern detective story and the creation of some of the first science fiction. "I call him the first, authentic, American, literary genius," Astin says.

Astin's involvement with the play was serendipitous in that he had been planning to do a one-man-show on a famous American when the play's two writers approached him about playing Poe. He hopes his portrayal will help people to understand who Poe was. "I believe art can teach us a great deal about life and living," he says.

John Dunning, the prize-winning author of 11 mystery novels such as "Booked to Die" and "The Bookman's Wake," will also make an appearance at the conference. Additionally, there will be a public poetry reading at 4:45 p.m. on Oct. 9 by Philip Levine, John Irwin and Dave Smith at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The reading is open to the public and tickets are $4.

Tickets for "Edgar Allan Poe-Once Upon a Midnight." can be purchased for $15 by calling the Poe Museum at

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