Halloween at Harlequin

By James O’Barr

Harlequin Productions is calling its 2023 season at the State Theatre, “Season of Resilience,” but the remarkable run of shows since their reopening in October of last year has been the very definition of the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. And if you missed any of the terrific theatre on offer, you still have two chances before year’s end to see that buoyancy at work. From November 23 to December 31, the annual holiday show, “A Christmas Carol,” will be on the boards.

Jim Lynch

But if it’s immediate gratification you want, there’ll be a one-night stand called “Halloween at Harlequin” to fill the bill on Monday, October 31.

Just when you thought that Halloween meant nothing but costumery, behavioral excess, and tooth decay, renowned literary Olympian Jim Lynch and noted Northwest playwright Bryan Willis have contrived a one-of-a-kind evening of storytelling and theater, directed by Megan Brewer.  

The presence of Jim Lynch on the Harlequin stage is especially sweet. It was during the run of the stage adaptation of his acclaimed novel, “The Highest Tide,” in March of 2021, that the Covid-19 pandemic forced the theater to close. Since then he has been at work on a new novel, “Monsters of Love,” to be published in 2023. It’s about the wonder of whales, and the researchers who work to understand them.

Bryan Willis in “Port Gamble Anthology,” photo by Takuya Otani.

Monday night he will be reading a new short story, “Revenge of the Wild,” about endlessly exploitive human encroachment on the wild and the inevitable pushback that comes from the creatures we’ve yet to learn to share the earth with. In the spirit of the occasion, he says, he’ll be in costume.

And Bryan Willis brings his acclaimed play, “Edgar Allen Poe—The Poet’s Journey.” According to Mr. Willis, the play recreates the last months of Poe’s tragically short life, as he tries to attract subscribers to a magazine he hopes to publish by appearing here and there as the main attraction in small literary salons. Poe was a true prodigy: editor, poet, one of the earliest American short-story writers, and our first professional writer to make a living without the support of an academic institution. A great many of his stories, as readers probably remember from school, are part of the American literary canon. He died under mysterious circumstances in October of 1849 at just 40 years old.

Bradford Farwell

The play premiered at the Old McCleary Hotel in 1998, where it ran for three weeks before gaining sponsorship with the Washington Humanities Commission, which generously produced the play over 100 times throughout the state.  Various actors have been performing the play ever since, including productions at Tacoma’s Rialto Theater, The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, and a production in Edinburgh, Scotland.  

Willis says, “It’s a one-man show with several bits of audience interaction, including a shameless bit of flirtation as Poe creates an original poem for a would-be subscriber.  The play includes many of those famous poems he wrote near the end of his life, as well as his passionate thoughts about literature, literary pretenders, and the struggle to share his work in a culture which was on its baby feet in terms of valuing original work generated in the U.S.”  

Megan Brewer

Appearing as Poe will be one of the Northwest’s most accomplished actors, Bradford Farwell. Mr. Farwell has performed regularly with Seattle’s ACT Theatre and with Seattle Repertory Theatre, and as well as in film and TV. He starred in Willis’s play, “Seven Ways To Get There,” when it was produced on ACT’s Main Stage.

Both Willis and Lynch have collaborated over the years in the Washington Center’s “Center Salon,” featuring writers, musicians, poets, painters, and other artists. “Center Salon VI” will be on stage in May 2023.

Halloween at Harlequin

7 p.m. Halloween Night, October 31

Harlequin Production’s State Theater, 202 4th Avenue East, Olympia



Photos courtesy Bryan Willis.

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