Review: Terrors of the mind grip you tightly in “Phantasmagoria VIII: The Chains of Fire”

Phantasmagoria VIII

“Phantasmagoria VIII: The Chains of Fire” makes effect use of some classic tales of madness.


ORLANDO – Classic horror literature, in the minds of many, probably means monsters – Bram Stoker giving us the bloody-sucking terror of his vampire Dracula, or Mary Shelley creating the lumbering hulk made of fresh corpses that becomes “Frankenstein.”

Still, not all writers of long-distant eras felt they needed to invent hideous creatures of the night to scare their readers.

One of the great pleasures of watching the continuing series known as “Phantasmagoria” is their exploration of classic horror literature – tales that this talented cast recreates for their Orlando audience, often with bone-chillingly effective scares.

And now with the eighth installment of the series by actor, director and playwright John DiDonna, “Phantasmagoria VIII: The Chains of Fire,” we have reminders that some of those writers of earlier centuries saw no need for monsters to be lurking in the shadows outside. Our own minds could be much scarier to confront.

Here are two examples: how much fear and anxiety can you generate from …. Teeth and wallpaper?

Quite a bit, you might be surprised to learn. Continue reading

“Phantasmagoria” is back for more eerie Halloween tales of terror

Phantasmagoria

“Phantasmagoria VIII: Chain of Fire” opens on Oct. 13. (Photo by Chris Bridges)

ORLANDO — Phantasmagoria.

If you hear that word in Orlando, it’s likely to mean something special, something unique, to a whole lot of city residents. And the first thing they’re likely to note in their minds is that it must be Halloween season.

“Phantasmagoria” is the long-running series of theatrical shows that have been performed every October for nearly a decade. The show, created by writer, director and actor John DiDonna, features a troop of 40 performers who entertain audiences with circus-like tricks while also recreating eerie tales of terror from the vaults of classic literature. The shows offer a unique mix: dance, music, large-scale puppetry, and acrobatics. Classic authors like Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Mary Shelley have all been given their due by the Phantasmagoria troupe.

There is also a traditional VIP event after each show, where audiences who purchase the VIP tickets can see some extra neat tricks being done by the performers.

The series has become so successful that it’s also been performed at the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival, and DiDonna has also taken it out on the road, with shows in Atlanta, Baltimore, and other cities.

And not surprisingly, now that it’s October, “Phantasmagoria VIII: The Chains of Fire” is arriving right on schedule. Continue reading

A dark and powerful “Man of La Mancha” comes to Orlando Shakes

Man of La Mancha

Laura Hodos as Aldonza, Matt Zambrano as Sancho, and Davis Gaines as Don Quixote star in Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Man of La Mancha.” (Photo by Luke Evans.)

ORLANDO – Davis Gaines cuts a truly commanding presence as Cervantes, the tax collector, playwright and dreamer in the legendary Broadway show “Man of La Mancha,” now being performed at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, that he’s thrilling ever moment he’s on stage.

Gaines has a marvelously towering voice from the very start, when he performs the show’s classic opening title song, “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote).” For the next two hours, he beautifully balances humor, pathos and more than a bit of tragedy in his performance. He’s particularly good when matched up against the equally stunning Laura Hodos as his imaginary love, Dulcinea. The two of them could have carried on the entire show themselves and been a pure delight to watch.

This beautifully mounted production of the 1964 Broadway hit by Dale Wasserman was directed by Nick DeGruccio, and his approach made me feel like I was watching the show for the first time. In several of the past productions that I’ve seen in Central Florida, the cast and directors emphasized humor, as the befuddled dreamer Cervantes and his loyal sidekick Sancho Panza were portrayed as comedic figures whose actions verged on slapstick. Continue reading

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