The Dark Fantastic is a story that begins and ends in the desert. It’s an hour-long experience kind of like an amusement park ride that shoots you off so fast you forget that you know you’ll end up where you began. The lone narrator sits at a small table, and small lights slowly rise to illuminate his cowboy hat but not his face as he begins to speak.
The narrator is Martin Dockery, whose physical talents and agile delivery bring us through the four phases of the story. This is a tale with nameless characters; we are given enough description to give them shape and definition, but the audience has the opportunity to use their own imagination in visualizing the Boy with Two Hearts, the Butcher, the Artist clothed in a tiny vest and cleats, and a Barbarian horde looking for a home. As the lights slowly illuminate more and more of the staging area of the Shadowbox, but the more we can see the less we are sure of the direction we are headed. The story veers from magical realism about Rome being built in a day to the rise and fall of an artist who harnesses a weird physical quirk into fame.
Through it all, we rely on Dockery’s voice and gestures, which are always precise. There is a timed soundtrack playing, so there is very little room for him to stutter or improvise, and his effort was close to flawless. His hands assist in the visualization of some crazy situations, and the idiosyncratic rhythms of his delivery seemed strong enough to carry entire audience I sat with. The Shadowbox is the perfect venue for this show, and the lighting and soundtrack added just the right accents to the whirlygig of the story.
The Dark Fantastic’s themes are the search for acceptance, the mysteries of our surroundings, and how we choose to let our situations define us. They’re big thoughts captured in creative ways, and while the show is marketed as a dark, twisted tale, its is more of a carnival costume. The storyteller doesn’t have a dark, bleak outlook, and that keeps the tension more in tune with anticipation than terror. We don’t know what’s coming until the very end, but Dockery makes sure everyone gets there in one piece. Highly recommended.
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