Phantasmagoria; or, Let Us Seek Death! – LaMama Experimental Theatre Club, New York

Writer: Chana Porter

Director: Randolph Curtis Rand

Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers

Puppetry, live performance, and literary history come together atop a stage painted in Pagan runes in Phantasmagoria; or, Let Us Seek Death! at LaMama. Director Randolph Curtis Rand helms a piece by Chana Porter, a creation myth as the frame story of a creation myth: Mary Shelley’s life as she wrote Frankenstein. The fantasy and monster elements of the piece are brought to reanimated life through puppets created by Benjamin Stuber.

An ensemble cast doubles up the roles between Shelley’s life and the story of the troubled Frankenstein. Scenes in the scandalous lifestyle of Shelley with her sister, her lover, her friends, and Lord Byron, are interspersed with the actual text of Frankenstein. Offset with occasional fourth-wall breaks consisting of contemporary lectures in literary criticism, the stories intertwine. Kima Baffour’s costume design straddles these disparate worlds well, combining contemporary lines and exposure with period textures and styling.

The entanglement of the narratives works well in the second half of the show, however the first act has some trouble finding its feet. The threads are a bit unravelled, but they do find their way to cohesion in a compelling second act. As the play becomes more ephemeral and ethereal, with heavy ambiance and puppet work, the story finds its pace and drive.

Perhaps with a little more time, Phantasmagoria will develop a first act that performs to the level of its second. The promise of a strong ensemble cast and compelling design has the potential for a spectacular spectre-driven experience.

Runs until 6 November 2016

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