Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Review- Phantasmagoria

Phantasmagoria attempted to bring a gothic history lesson to life in the format of a Victorian display of scientific oddities. The history was there, all the early influences of the avant-garde art from the gothic cannon were put on display. The format was there, the literary works were presented as if part of a pre-carnival freakshow. Unfortunately, the “bringing to life” part was mostly not there.

Much of the show failed it’s ambitions. The evening had the feel of lopsided collaboration of multiple mediums. Some people were reaching beyond what they were capable of, and some people it seems, just hadn’t done their work. The music and dance sections were the only ones that consistantly met their goals. The acting was mixed, some was very good, some of it sounded like they were reading their lines and much of it WAS people reading. The video reached too far and failed miserably, completely detracting from the rest of the production. The set and special effects also tried too hard to contribute to the mood created by the musicians, and ended up detracting from it instead.

Susie Carlson’s dancing and Brian Miracle’s acting were the saving graces that pulled their sections up over the distraction presented by the obnoxious, gimmicky video work. The other sections (most of the show) failed to overcome the low quality visuals. These visuals were conceptually interesting, two screens with a narrow play space between and rear and forward projection creating two layers of image which the actors interacted with, but the delivery was really low quality. Grainy digitized videos with fuzzy soundtracks, shoddy editing and cheap gimmicky transitions and effects ruined the ethereal gothic mood the scenic designer tried hard to achieve.

Tried too hard that is. Excessive smoke machine action set off the fire alarm early in the show and inundated the audience with intermittent hissing noises, thick clouds of smoke and an unpleasant chemical atmosphere. The intimate space made all these tech and costumes and mood effects look cheap and slapped together.

Speaking of cheap and slapped together, most of the show consisted of slide shows with actors reading narration in character (Frankenstein’s monster, Mary Shelly, Nietzsche). These sections totally disengaged me from the show and also failed to inform or interest me. I’d rather hear a lecture from a real person on these subjects or stories, without the distracting accents and half-assed characterizations, then I could’ve listened to what was being said and learnt something. As it was, the slide shows offered me an opportunity to check the time, read the program and contemplate slipping out the door.

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