Edgar Allan ★★★★★
Last year’s The Legend of White Woman Creek stood out like a glowing skull on the side of a moonless river, and it’s delightful news that the Coldharts from Brooklyn, N.Y. have returned in such perfect, well-oiled form.
With torch-bright writing and enviable skill at inhabiting alluring gothic miscreants, this play is my 2015 high-water mark so far — a rolling and demon-haunted dissection of childhood friendship and inevitable jealousy. Best of all, it’s damn funny when it wants to be. It has tinges of A Separate Peace and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, all dipped in a monochrome wash of Edward Gorey.
Brilliant and scheming 11¼-year-old Edgar Allan is played with terrifying charm by Katie Hartman, who emerges face pointed down, eyes up, with a singing grin that could sent a cat running into a brick wall.
Explaining he will always be remarkable, Allan is soon horrified to discover an equally clever, equally stunted rival, played with a whispering Hecubus charm by Nick Ryan. Tactically, Allan befriends the new boy, whose name is also Edgar Allan. The two choose Corvus and Noctua — crow and owl in Latin — to differentiate.
Without spoiling much, Edgar Allan Poe is clearly in the room. With a number of winks at the turn-of-the-previous-century writer, and with truly staggering dialogue and delicious songs, what’s most rewarding is the stunted, fragile tenderness between the two Allans in their invented Hallowed Order of Aves. You think it’s going to go well between them?
Don’t think twice about seeing this — it’s as accessible as it is intricate, and the musical joy and sorrow is sorcerous.
Note, it’s a hot venue, so bring a fan, as well as $10 for a CD from last year’s production. Trust me.
-Fish Grikowsky, Edmonton Journal, August 2015
Edgar Allan (Critic's Pick)
One of the pleasures of a Fringe Festival is being able to see interesting and original theatre that is so non-commercial that it otherwise might never see the light of day. Such a pleasure is Edgar Allan, a wildly creative play presented by The Coldharts and its founders, Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan (the same pair who brought the hugely successful Legend of White Woman Creek to the 2014 Fringe).
While it’s never exactly stated, the play is at one level a reverential nod to the youth and works of Edgar Allan Poe. Yet it’s much more than just a vehicle to throw a lot of references out there for effect. Instead, we’re immediately drawn in by Hartman, highly charged as 11-year-old Edgar Allan, a boy preparing for conquests and glory at a new boarding school. Hartman mines tremendous humor from her physicality, a vocal delivery that is all intense, earnest sibilants and several songs, which she sings to her own ukulele accompaniment. It sounds odd and a little ridiculous —and it actually is both of those things. Yet her performance is so committed and genuine that the play’s action is elevated into something else, if not one of Poe’s allegories, then at least something completely engaging.
And then we have Ryan, Edgar Allan’s alter ego (another of Poe’s themes), quiet and still where Hartman is manic, whispered and soft where Hartman is loud, mirroring Edgar in some ways while being profoundly different in others. It’s too simple to say that Ryan provides much of the play’s humor; it’s more the case that these two actors together have found just the right balanced tone to allow some lighter moments while not losing sight of the evening’s darker, more ominous themes.
There is only a single set piece (a suggested doorway), but it has an important function toward the play’s conclusion. The lighting available at the Know was used to good effect, and a special nod should go to the costumes and hairstyles of the two actors, again almost in mirror image, but made subtly different by the actors themselves.
There are lots of allusions to Poe and his themes (“The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Black Cat” and “The Raven” make cameo appearances in various degrees. Hartman and Ryan also get a lot of the history right regarding Poe’s childhood. But their production was not at all gimmicky; the light moments and the music were all a set-up for something much deeper. I suspect that Poe would have approved of this play and the considerable skill of these two artists. It’s really a unique experience, not to be missed.
-Ed Cohen, Cincinnati City Beat, May 2015
Best of the 2014 Fringe Festival
The Coldharts' Edgar Allan began life last year at the Twin Cities Horror Festival — a like-minded event that focuses on spooky stuff. Creators Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan have deep connections to the comedy scene, especially with Four Humors. This isn't a strict adaptation of any Poe story, but certainly has the raven lover's vibe.
The action takes place at an English boarding school, where two characters, both named Edgar Allan, meet. One is a brash American (Hartman), bent on rising to the top of the social ladder. The other is shy and never speaks above a whisper. An odd bond forms between the two misfits that plays out in part through song — performed on an unlikely combination of ukulele and trumpet.
-Ed Huyck, Minneapolis City Pages, August 2014
Presented by The Coldharts at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage
If Edward Gorey were to write a children’s ukulele musical, it would look like this. Hilarious and horrifying in equal measure, Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan’s lovely play about the boyhood of the iconic writer and his new best frenemy at school is a jewel box of a play. Thanks to Hartman and Ryan’s charismatic performances, this sly meditation on boyhood is a charmingly creepy show that could be the sleeper hit of the festival!
-Todd O'Dowd, L'Etoile Magazine, August 2014
The Legend of White Woman Creek ★★★★★
(Reviewed at the Toronto Fringe Festival - July 2 - 13)
When I review a show, I like to take notes during the performance. But after the first 15 minutes of watchingThe Legend of White Woman Creek, the pen lay still in my hand and I spent the rest of the show trying, unsuccessfully, not to cry.
The show is based on an American ghost story - Katie Hartman plays the conjured spirit of Amy Morgan Faber, a pioneer woman said to haunt a creek in Kansas. Hartman tells Amy’s tragic life story through song, accompanied by acoustic guitar. Her voice is a trained heart-tugging tool, and she expertly controls her vast range. Hartman can move from soft murmurs to cries so powerful you’ll need to have some tissues handy for when she really lets loose.
The music is beautiful, and has been carefully researched. Playwright Nick Ryan says most of the show’s tunes are based on the style of western folk songs popular during the American Civil War, and they feel authentic.
This is a gripping tale, told so well that there was likely not a single dry eye in the house by its end - and the only show that I attended at this year’s Toronto Fringe that had a standing (and teary) ovation. Go find out why for yourself.
-Rosie Fernandez, CBC, July 2014
The Legend of White Woman Creek (Critic's Pick)
In a narrow, dank room beneath MOTR Pub (seating about 60), you can take in a mournful, historically based ghost story told in song. Katie Hartman solemnly introduces herself as an academic and paranormal researcher. She lights votive candles, sets them around the small stage, then chants an incantation to conjure the ghost of Anna Morgan Haber. As the lights dim, she dons a long gingham dress, the last know possession of this woman from the 1860s.
She is “inhabited” by Anna, picks up an acoustic guitar and launches into a song, “Go West, Young Woman.” Thus begins Anna’s sad legend, told through 13 songs. Following the Civil War, she was teaching at a school in West Virginia. An acquaintance of her soldier brother proposed marriage and moved her with him to Western Kansas, a lonely desolate place, devoid of much human contact. She was captured by Cheyenne Indians, fell in love with a chief and had a child by him. But, as her doleful songs tell us, things didn’t go well: Soldiers returned her to her cold husband, her child was murdered and she disappeared — doomed to haunt the creek.
Katie Hartman is the solo performer of the song cycle that she and her husband Nick Ryan have crafted. She does little more than stand at a microphone, surrounded by the flickering candles, singing and strumming her guitar. (The space at MOTR Pub was hot and humid on opening night, which added to the close, clammy ambience of a ghost story, told around a campfire on a summer night.) But that’s enough: She has a powerful voice that can range from tender to powerful, from plaintive to vengeful, and she uses every aspect of it to tell the sad story of Anna-Wee, as the woman came to call herself. Several moments of powerful emotion are rendered with her head tilted back, singing in an unrestrained but musical howl, sometimes using sounds that convey feeling without words. When her child is born, a song expresses an optimistic sentiment, the hopeful notion of planting an orchard. But the story winds down unhappily, filled with grief and yearning. It’s a very moving 60 minutes.
Hartman and Ryan’s roots are in the Twin Cities, and they have worked with Four Humors Theater, a regular Fringe presence for several years (whose repertoire has included ghostly tales, too).White Woman Creek is not a stand-up-and-cheer kind of show: It’s artfully crafted and professionally delivered in an understated way. But it is powerfully effective. However, be forewarned that the performance space is uncomfortably warm and sightlines are not great: I recommend grabbing one of the barstools in the back for a better view of the stage.
-Rick Pender, Cincinnati City Beat, May 2014
The Legend of White Woman Creek: Review ★★★★★
Stage 3, Walterdale Playhouse
“Change seats if you feel cold,” the historian played by Katie Hartman recommends. With a Civil War-era dress spread out on the floor, she notes that during previous summonings, there have been scratches, bruises, even broken bones. She chants and invokes the ghost of Anna Morgan Faber — tragic Anna-Wee in legend. Spirit possesses historian as she terrifyingly emerges, switches dresses, growling and rhyming, hissing about revenge. Oh man, this is going to be good.
The ghost of Anna-Wee tells the tale of how she headed west, married a German named Faber and ended up living loveless in a sod house. This she does in a series of magnificent narrative songs, performed just perfectly.
Channelling Americana from The Spoon River Anthology to Gillian Welch, Anna-Wee’s loveless marriage is torn in half as she’s carried off by Cheyenne Indians, in retribution for a raid her husband joined. Quaking with terror from tales of rape, scalping and burning alive, it’s here that the song-series is almost unbearably tense, and almost a letdown when the natives turn out to be kind, so much so that she falls in love in a new life, including a child.
I won’t spoil anything more, but remember, this is a ferocious, vengeful spirit. One song, written from the perspective of crows innocently plucking eyes and flesh to feed their young, is one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed at the Fringe. Some of the lighting will have your arm hairs standing on end. Walking home after I avoided dark places.
With Nick Ryan directing and co-creating with Hartman, this is an absolute triumph of music, production and mischievous willingness to unnerve.
-Fish Griwkowsky, Edmonton Journal, August 2013
Fringe Festival 'Legend' is Evocative Folk Opera
Armed with the righteousness of Manifest Destiny and the Christian Bible, West Virginian Anna Morgan Faber went west with her husband only to have her illusions about marital bliss and American Indians radically shattered. This original folk opera by the Coldharts — Nick Ryan and Katie Hartman — is framed as a séance. Hartman, encircled by candles, dons a Civil War era gown to channel Faber’s ghost. Her splendidly moving vocals, exquisite guitar artistry and rich emotional range convey genuinely epic storytelling. This production evokes an atmosphere, forlorn, spectral and sacred.
-John Townsend, Star Tribune, August 2013
KC Fringe: Legend of White Woman Creek
The Coldharts’ “Legend of White Woman Creek” is an engaging, expertly sung folk opera about a Western Kansas ghost, Anna Morgan Faber.
A joy of Fringe Festivals is the possibility of stumbling upon a great discovery. The Coldharts’ “Legend of White Woman Creek,” now playing at The Fishtank is one such find. The Brooklyn-based duo’s intimate folk opera for single performer transcends genre and exists in a well-crafted bubble of polished care and professionalism.
Doctor of Paranormal History, Catherine Tice (Katie Hartman) [no relation to the reviewer], spins a tale of her credentials and that we, the audience, are about to experience a paranormal happening. After lighting a ring of candles and speaking an invocation, Tice’s face drops. In her place is Anna Morgan, a girl born in West Virginia before it was known as such. Donning Morgan’s simple post-Civil War dress and picking up an acoustic guitar, Morgan begins spinning her tale.
It’s a heartbreaking story, one of frontier life, childless marriage, loneliness, forbidden love, slaughter, death, and murder. It’s easy to glean where the narrative leads, but the path taken is worth the journey, making the destination all the more crushing.
The songs are folk-based but impeccably well written and varied. Each flows easily through Hartman’s infinitely listenable voice. The full spectrum of idiomatic humble whispers to pained wails is accessed and sung with passion. Throughout the performance I tried to compare her voice to another’s and the best I can come up with is Sally Ellyson of Hem but with a much larger high end, both in range and dynamic.
Thematic material returns throughout the show as the song “Go West, Young Woman” transforms gradually over the course of the hour into “Go East, White Woman.” It’s this overarching narrative and careful construction that elevates the production and music beyond just being a loose collection of songs. The song of two crows surveying a winter battlefield is the strongest number in the show.
The Coldharts have a not-to-be-missed hit on their hands. It should be on everyone’s must-see list for this year’s Fringe. Hopefully their subsequent album fundraising will be successful as this music and show deserves wider attention. There are three more opportunities to see this production: Monday, July 22 at 6pm, Thursday, July 25 at 7:30pm, and Saturday, July 27 at 10:30pm followed by stops at the Minnesota and Edmonton Fringe Festivals.
-Lee Hartman, KCMetropoli.com, July 2013