Review: What’s with “The Hound of the Baskervilles”? It’s Pawsome!

Hound of the Baskervilles

Steven Lane is Sherlock Holmes in the Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s supremely silly version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” (Photo by Luke Evans).

ORLANDO — “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” the new production at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, may be the supreme version of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel — supremely silly, supremely goofy, and perhaps one of theater’s great defenders of the bad pun.

If you’re tired of theatrical productions of 18th century plays about depressed people who do depressing things and suffer morbid endings, “Hound” is your anecdote for sure.

This version of the Sherlock Holmes saga about the hunt for a man-killing-beast in England, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson, is a wildly campy send up of all things Sherlock, with a three person cast trying in often extravagant ways to out-mug one another. You can tell when actors are having a grand old time on stage, and this is one of them.

From the very opening moment, when actor Chris Crawford comes on stage and hears the ominous, menacing howl of a hound getting closer and closer — and then dies one of the hammiest deaths in theater history, the Fourth Wall between audience and performer gets shattered as actor Simon Needham comes out to interrupt the proceedings and announce that they forget to mention some important notices before the show started. Hey, better late than never, right?

The Fourth Wall gets broken a lot (including a few times in Saturday night’s show that felt improvised) as the three performers make a mad dash for larfs. Sherlock Holmes purists, at least the more dour ones, are likely to find not much of Doyle’s book in this one, but it’s hard to deny that this Monty Python-esque madcap adventure isn’t pretty hilarious most of the time. Continue reading

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

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