Phantasmagoria VII – The Cards They Are Dealt

Phantasmagoria VII – The Cards They Are Dealt

Phantasmagoria VII – The Cards They Are Dealt
Written and Directed by John DiDonna
Choreography by Mila Makarova
Fight Direction by Bill Warriner
Starring Chris Pruitt, Sara Costello, John DiDonna, and Jeremy Wood
Presented at the Orlando Shakespeare Center
Orlando, FL

Phantasmagoria has been around long enough to justify Roman numerals in the title, and this episode finds us in 18th century Italy, but the lingua franca of the troupe still remains stilted English. The immortality of the storytellers was always assumed, but tonight its confirmed. A new member enters the Phantasmagoria troupe; Alice Liddell (Costello) is a mere mortal, and Byron (DiDonna) brings her in against the advice of Bosch (Wood). It falls to Cyril (Pruett) to mediate, and Alice must prove herself by telling a story. She doubles down and tells two; this is good enough for everyone but Bosch. And as they always say “Once a story is chosen, it must be told; once a story is begun it must be finished.” “Hurray!” you think; no texting interruptions tonight.
Tonight’s adventures come from all public domain quarters. Ambrose Bierce has faded in the public’s eye but his creepy hunting story “That Damn Thing” makes you question the need to really go out in the woods at night for food. Oscar Wilde provides the short and ambiguous “The Harlots House,” then Ms. Liddell gives us the very exciting and little known “The Mezzotint” by M. R. James. My favorite tales came from a German author Heinrich Hoffmann. His “Struwwelpeter” collects stories he wrote to entertain his young child. As all students of second year German know, this are gruesome tales of dismemberment and immolation and abandonment. Aha, yes, kids back then WERE tougher. All are brutal, all are creepy, and all are aimed to keep you on the edge of the chair. And that’s where you spend the evening.
But this show is more than just stories; there’s a dance and performance aspect as well as the rather interesting steam punk audience. Standing in line I complemented a woman on wearing the same hat my grandmother wore in 1950; it’s hard to tell if she was flattered or offended or was really just that old. Inside between stories we have various dance and acrobatics events on rings (Dion Leonhard and Mila Makarova), silks, and the floor. A tarot card theme tied the stories together even if it’s not clear why the Seven of Swords implies separation and the Eight of Swords entrapment.
Arguments flowed between Byron, Bosch and Cyril; but eventually Alice was allowed to remain although it took a sword fight to settle that nit of an issue. The only thing missing this year was a giant puppet; this may be the first giant puppet free show in the series, although there were smaller ones. Come for the audience, stay for the stories, and hang out for the VIP fire dance routine outside. It’s elegant and mysterious, and no matter what they say, you are safe, so long as you avoid the isles and stay at least five rows up.

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