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Phantasmagoria’s Horror Both Delights and Dismays

What better way to spend Halloween than watching a performance that promised to be “beyond your darkest fears?” Phantasmagoria, created and directed by Rollins Adjunct Professor John DiDonna, with his theater company Empty Spaces, was an odd mixture of terrifying excellence and ghastly disappointment.

The show was broken into a series of sections, each covering a different creepy story. Dance sequences and gag-worthy puppet shows separated each section. The dance sequences were entertaining, but they seemed to drag on for too long.

To be fair, the dancers were amazingly talented, presenting fun humor while sitting on the ground watching the puppet shows, but the dances seemed almost out of place among the creepy and spellbinding stories.

The puppet sequences were another matter entirely. At first, the crude humor and sexual connotations seemed funny, but when compared to the brilliance of later acts, the puppet shows were sorely lacking and out of place.

The only disturbing part was when fake blood poured out of the puppets’ heads after one puppet stabbed the other. The humor was dull, the puppets not so much creepy looking as downright deformed, and the scenes always seemed to kill the eerie mood the other scenes created so beautifully.

The narrators, on the other hand, were fantastic. The storytelling truly made this performance worthwhile. Their voices and narration kept me captivated with each new tale. Alumna Emily Killian ‘10 performed as a storyteller, doing a particularly amazing job during “The Metamorphosis,” where she, along with Cory Boughton, not only narrated the story but acted as every character except Gregor (who had turned into a massive bug).

“The Metamorphosis,” though not very creepy, was humorous in the way that the puppet shows were not. I was forced to read this book in high school and I absolutely despised it. If I had seen this production rather than reading the book, I would have loved it. The humor provided by this adaptation was more of what the show needed, rather than throwing in a few puppets with some crude jokes.

To put my fear scale in perspective, I attended Halloween Horror Nights with my uncle last week. After the night was over, he decided that I just “didn’t get scared.” I laughed at the men chasing people with chainsaws and barely glanced at the people in the haunted houses.

With that in mind, Phantasmagoria did, at times, utterly creep me out. “The Varney the Vampire” sequence and the accompanying dance were absolutely riveting, while the recitation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” kept me on the edge of my seat. Overall, Phantasmagoria was excellent in some respects and horribly bland in others. I am not sure if I would see it again, but it would definitely be worthwhile to see it at least once if the show is performed again next year.

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