Saturday, July 25, 2015

Phantasmagoria gets even better with age.


Phantasmagoria Orlando and DiDonna Productions, present the first ever “Tour Version” of the Critically Acclaimed Victorian Horror Troupe, featuring the “BEST of” the Last Five Years of Phantasmagoria.

Phantasmagoria “Wicked Little Tales” will have a limited engagement weekend of only 3 performances at the Mandell Theater of the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center, July 24th, 25th, and 26th before leaving for its first ever Atlanta Performances. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 8:00pm.


I went to a dress rehearsal in the Mandell Theater. John told me that the theater had sat quiet for several months with only the ghost light illuminating center stage. A popular theater superstition, every theater has a ghost, and a ghost light is meant to appease the ghosts. The theater had been struck by lightning and the theater was black when Phantasmagoria arrived. At that first rehearsal, the speakers died for no apparent reason. As the actors warmed up on stage, one said, "That ghost is a jerk." Another replied, "Yes, especially with the speakers."

At this dress rehearsal the ghosts gave the performers free reign. During the pre-show the entire cast stood on stage frozen while video of past performances was projected behind them. Each character was introduced in turn in mysterious oozing credits. Two macabre clowns performed among the frozen cast until one was stabbed by accident which animated the troupe as they moved towards the blood.. The ring master standing on a box shouted out with glorious aplomb that the show had begun.  In the opening tale, the cast moved towards the audience menacingly, even climbing over chairs to get face to face. The fourth wall was broken and I was unnerved as the beautiful Aurora (Kim Hough) almost touched my neck as if she were ready to take my life.

Edger Allen Poe's "The Raven" started off the tales of horror. A beautiful animation of black wings in flight made a perfect back drop for an actress whose out stretched arms and bird like mannerisms complimented the motion. Another tale from a far continent had haunting hints of voodoo and impending death. "Captain Murderer" was told with a fiendish sense of humor. John DiDonna, playing the Captain played the part over the top which offered much needed laughter. This delightful humor saturated the entire show. The actors are so seasoned that they understand that there is a tongue in cheek humor in even the darkest tale. Other tales included “Varney the Vampire" and "The Feast of Blood".

The young Pandora (Gina Markarova) naively asked to hear the tale of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”. One a tale is begun it must be finished. Alice (Sara Costello) had to be protected from the beast and then she defended herself with a shield and sword. As in Jumangi, the fierce Jabberwocky burst to life threatening the lives of everyone in the cast. Puppetry brought the creature to life and everyone defended themselves with knives and swords. At this rehearsal the fight was run at a quarter speed and still the sharp blades seemed to fly far too close to flesh. This touring edition of Phantasmagoria combines humor and horror in a steampunk, goth production that shines.

Ticket prices are $15.00 for students and $20.00 for general admission with a $5.00 per ticket add on for VIP guests. Phantasmagoria "Wicked Little Tales" remaining shows are July 25-26 at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center (812 E Rollins St, Orlando, Florida) it then goes to Atlanta Georgia on July 31 to August 2.

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