Ambrose Bierce defines Magic as “an art of converting superstition into coin,” and that is exactly what creator and director, John Didonna, has done in the sixth year of Phantasmagoria’s production, Phantasmagoria VI: The Darkness Awakens.
The show is set some time after Byron, the troupe’s leader, had sacrificed himself for the dancer Pandora. Cyril, the new leader, has since forbidden the troupe from bringing the stories to life, causing them to be thrown out into the streets by the theater’s Manager for not being able to perform anything with which he’d be able to make a profit.
After some antagonizing from the Manager, and his mistreatment of the theater’s Roustabout, the troupe can no longer hold back and begin to awaken the stories. As this happens, the troupe ominously explains, “Once a story is chosen, it must be told. Once a story is begun, it must be finished.”
Since I have never seen the show before, and since Phantasmagoria appears to have a chronological tale of its own, I was not privy to some of the inner relationships among the characters. Aside from this, the show in itself was a whirlwind of cult-like chanting, the dancers’ lithe bodies writhe upon the stage, contorting erotically as each story unfolded.
Phantasmagoria manages to bring us back to the purest form of storytelling; in which every whisper, every stomp, and every raised inflection has a purpose. The power invoked in their words not only gives these stories life, but aids to entrance the viewer deeper into the haunting brilliance of their world.
Unfortunately, a rather lackluster belly dance performance nearly marred the otherwise beautifully choreographed dance numbers performed between each tale. I was also a little disappointed in the barely there existence of the puppets that were often referenced in interviews leading up to the show. At the very least, the few that made an appearance were quite memorable and wonderfully crafted. I was also a bit annoyed that the inner turmoil within the group was referenced merely once, then ignored until the very end of the show. Something like that, especially since it seems as if it will be pertinent for next year’s story, should have been given more attention. Besides the few tarnished nuggets of disappointment, I enjoyed the show overall.
The show will be running until Halloween, tickets are $25 (15 for students, elderly, and military). The VIP ticket, which is $35, includes a more intimate performance outside under the stars. You’ll enjoy a complimentary beverage (beer, wine, or soda) and Pumpkin Spice cotton candy made with organic ingredients that tastes surprisingly like Apple Jacks.
So if you are a devilishly playful person with a slightly dark inclination who enjoys the chilling works of Poe and Ambrose Bierce and watching up close aerial performances then I suggest seeing Phantasmagoria VI: The Darkness Awakens.
Performances take place Fridays through Mondays until October 31, at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Orlando. For tickets, and more information, visit phantasmagoriaorlando.com.
[Photos courtesy Phantasmagoria/Barry D. Kirsh, photographer]
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