Gary Allan Poe is constantly in the company of creative people, so he’s always being asked if he’s related the 19th century writer Edgar Allan Poe.
“We’re connected, but not as close as I thought we were,” said Poe, who plays Colonel Melkett in Peter Shaffer’s farce from 1965, “Black Comedy,” opening tonight at the Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Vermont.
WHERE: Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main St., Bennington, Vermont
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Sept. 6; show times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday (also a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Aug. 22)
HOW MUCH: $37-$10
MORE INFO: 802-447-0564, www.oldcastletheatre.org
“Our families split up in the 16th century, and Edgar’s parents went to Ireland and my side of the family stayed in England. I used to ask about it but my family didn’t have that much to say. I guess my father liked the name Gary, but I have no idea why he gave me the middle name, and I have no idea why Edgar spelled his middle name the way he did,” he said.
Gary Poe’s connection to Oldcastle Theatre also goes back a ways, and he’s got all the details on that history. He was one of five young actors from New York City who started Oldcastle Theatre Company as a touring troupe in 1972. The group would often stay at the home of Eric Peterson, the current artistic director, whose parents lived in the Bennington area.
“We were all pretty new, just out of acting school, and we decided we wanted to do a play together,” remembered Poe. “We did it in Bennington because we could stay at Eric’s parents, and we called ourselves the Pauper Players. That was the beginning of Oldcastle.”
In 1980, Poe moved to Los Angeles, where he spent nearly three decades doing a lot of commercial and stage work as well as some television and film. He is now back in the East, living in Stonington, Connecticut.
“I’m basically retired but I do have sort of a volunteer job working as a docent in the Hempstead House, a historic building that goes back to 1688,” he said. “There were 10 generations that lived in the house, and I get to dig into that history and portray some real characters from the past. It’s a lot of fun.”
In “Black Comedy,” Poe plays Colonel Melkett, a crusty old gentleman whose daughter is engaged to be married to a young sculptor. Also in the cast are Christina Decker, Rick Howe, Jim Staudt, Peter Langstaff and Ana Anderson.
Shaffer wrote his play to be produced under a reversed lighting scheme, opening on a darkened stage and only revealing the set and characters when the story calls for a short circuit, illuminating the characters in a “blackout.”
“Under normal circumstances, the audience can’t see the play,” said Poe. “The stage is black. But when they blow a fuse and the power goes out in the whole house, the stage lights come up and while the actors can’t see each other, the audience can.
“There’s a lot of tripping over furniture, running into other people. It’s very funny, and my character is this retired colonel, the father of the girl who is engaged, and he is a bit gruff, pompous and rough around the edges.”
While Poe refers to himself as retired, he still finds plenty of time to work at Oldcastle. And when he isn’t acting, he’s working as a stage manager.
“Eric called me once desperate and asked me if I could do it and it was a two-person play, so I said to myself, ‘How hard can that be?’ ” he said.
“With a lot of support we did it, and then I came back last year and did three shows as the stage manager. There’s pressure, but it’s different behind the curtain. As stage manager you have to make sure the actors do what the director wants them to do. You have to worry about the sound, the lighting, and you’re there for every show.
“You usually get hired a week before rehearsal begins, and the real good news is if you’re Equity, which Oldcastle is, you get paid more than the actors.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]