2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Mysterious: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe’ at The Phenomenal Animals

In several dimly lighted rooms within the walls of the brick tower atop the Shiloh Baptist Church, Edgar Allan Poe’s tales, adapted by Robert Cousins, are being reborn, as eerie as nevermore, performed by the co-creative ensemble, The Phenomenal Animals, under the direction of Kate Sparacio.

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Waiting for those who dare is a congealing of select cuts from some of Poe’s most disturbing stories including “The Oval Portrait,” “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Masque of the Red Death,” “Berenice,” and the famous “The Pit and the Pendulum,” woven together to form one phantasmic night of fun. During another scintillating tale, “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether,” participants are invited to the table to join in the lunacy.  In another small, close room, you may assist, or simply witness the mesmerizing “Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” or perhaps help control the deep blue fabric of the sea raging while the ensemble enacts “Annabel Lee” in the larger performance area.

Participation is absolutely voluntary, but who can resist an invitation to dance macabre-like? Okay, maybe some truly can, but that’s okay. The Phenomenal Animals have devised plenty of opportunity for various levels of engagement in their cleverly conceived, well staged, experientially immersive presentation of Poe’s works.

Four actors, Grant Bolopue as ‘Perverse,’ Taylor Cawley as ‘Mysterious,’ Emily Dale White as ‘Grotesque,’ and Hannah Hammel as ‘Merry,’ fascinate as they continually portray an impressive range of Poe’s formidable characters throughout the featured story segments, by means of movement, expert physicality, voice, excellent use of light, space and sound, and splendid talent.

John Baumgartner’s lighting design makes for a multitude of otherworldy atmospheres. Remotely controlled electronic tea candles, handed out preshow, swaying lamps, pulsating light, and use of various sound devices, and black and white costuming against red brick and reddish props, do much to enrich the authentic nightmarish feel of the show.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Tales of the Grotesque and Mysterious: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe plays through September 24, 2016, at The Phenomenal Animals at the Boy Scout Room at Brian Sanders’ JUNK –  2040 Christian Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.

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