Phantasmagoria’s "A Most Haunted Victorian Christmas"

Phantasmagoria has been around for 14 years now in Central Florida and beyond and you are not aware of who they are…where the hell have ya been?!?  In all seriousness, Phantasmagoria is a creative collaboration born from the mind of writer/director John DiDonna, it originally began as an entertainment centered around the Halloween time period, but over the years has grown and expanded and now has also become a staple of the Yuletide season.  Offering “stories taken from century’s old literature of horror and the macabre, folklore, and legend, while their appearances and special events charm with a professional variety of circus, sideshow, and theatrical flair along with tales of local legends and folklore”, the troupe of performers and creators (including choreographer Mila Makarova and stage combat director Bill Warriner, who also perform) have over the years lavished us with entertainments that are Victorian in appearance, but to my eye also incorporate elements of steam punk and Brechtian drama.

I recently had the opportunity to catch their latest endeavor, “A Most Haunted Christmas” at the Dr. Phillips. To say that the performance was both well attended and well received would be an understatement and if you have ever caught a Phantasmagoria offering, you will feel right at home with this one.  You will enjoy the usual carefully curated stories, centered this time on the Christmas season.  You will take in the full throated performances, the puppetry, the evocative dance routines and the screen projections you have grown accustomed to getting.  And you will leave with a smile on your face and several moments probably seared into your theater memories.

Having caught Phantasmagoria a few times but not in recent years, the night to me felt like settling back into a favorite set of slippers or my favorite easy chair.  I had a great general idea of what I’d be getting, but there were enough new comforts to make me feel right at home.  The stories themselves were well selected and elicited laughs, frights and even some welling of these eyes.  Without giving too much away, I will say that you can expect to get lessons in and about love, loss, the human spirit and even a visit from good old Krampus (if you know, you know).  

The highlight of the night for me was the rendition of “Mistletoe” by Walter de la Mare as performed by “Eiyla” (Olivia Tyndall).  Insulated, solitary, brimming with loss and beauty, this piece spoke to the flip side of this season’s holiday cheer in a way that was heartbreaking and beautiful.  When she arrives at the verse “Lips unseen—and kissed me there”, we are as broken watching as she is before us.

At this point in their development, Phantasmagoria has grown and strengthened due to their ability to bring in new troupe members that can hold their own while retaining tried and true veterans that form the bedrock of all that occurs.  With that said, therein lies my only minor quibble with the show and the troupe: there are moments when one can clearly see the disparity in performances from experienced veteran actors like DiDonna (“Byron) and Warriner (“Wilhelm”) and those of their lesser experienced troupe members. The power, the nuances, the depth brought to the veterans is something to behold.  The same can be said about the dance performances of “Cimorene” (Dion Leonhard DiDonna) and her cohorts. But, it is a minor quibble indeed.

I highly recommend you catch one of the remaining performances whether you are a Phantasmagoria veteran or a newcomer. Their remaining performances include OCALA – The Reilly Arts Center – December 17th , LEESBURG – Melon Patch Theatre – December 21st 

And DELAND – The Athens Theatre – December 22nd & 23rd.  For ticket links and information visit www.PhantasmagoriaOrlando.com

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