Created and Performed by Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard
as part of the Under the Radar Festival

A scene from Phobophilia. Photo by Julio Pantoja.

BOTTOM LINE: Phobophilia is a video puppet show featuring a live tie-in performance and blindfolds.

The high thrill of Phobophilia comes at the start when the audience is broken up into small groups and led through the biting cold to a cement room in the basement of the theatre. There, everyone’s possessions are taken, they are blindfolded, then lined up and led inside. At this point, the blindfold is anticlimactically removed and audience members take their seats. It’s a brilliant gimmick, but in ends up as little more.

The blindfolds might be a parallel to the first image portrayed: a man standing on a block with a sack over his head. Although considering the philia of the phobia, it might also be a matter of titillation.

Once all are settled in their seats and the show gets going, the man on stage quickly relinquishes his position as primary focus to a video projection. This artful video draws on elements of animation -- it is one of the best integrations of projected image and real space that I have seen. The video-art style narrative of the projection plays out on a changing backdrop which acts as a stage for the action of the film, and eventually becomes so complex as to mimic a diorama or puppet show. For example, at one point the main character in the film chases a chimerical tease through door after door. The two figures are filmed and projected. The doors through which they enter and exit are created by moving parts in the board on which the film plays. It’s fantastic.

The choreography between the filmed portion of the show and the real-time element is brilliantly timed and planned in nuanced detail. The film itself is edited seamlessly, and the visuals used are both creative and quirky.

The only issue I had was one of scale. The size of the film and backdrop are very small and difficult to see. The magical miniature element is nice, but a little larger set up would have maintained that idea while making it easier to discern details in the film. And the details are worth discerning, especially when the film is the main part of the production.

Phobophilia is as playful, dark, and sensual as its name implies. It is well conceived and precisely executed. Phobophilia is a real treat for the downtown crowd, particularly those who enjoy something different and intriguing.

(Phobophilia played downstairs at the HERE Arts Center as part of the Under the Radar Festival. It closed on Monday, January 10, 2011. For more info visit