The Strange System of Doctor Bouvier

By Michael Muzio and Margo LaZaro
Directed by Michael Muzio
Heights Productions in association with Margo LaZaro and Daniel DePacci
Chashama/Spotlight On Festival
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Elias Stimac

The Strange System of Doctor Bouvier hearkens back to theatrical presentations of yesteryear. The melodramatic suspense story by Michael Muzio and Margo LaZaro was staged in the style of The Theatre of the Grand-Guignol, a venue known for blood-covered walls and violent, fear-inducing fare. While it may have been spine-tingling back in the first half of the century, today's sophisticated audiences demand a little more subtlety with their horror shows. Alas, while Doctor Bouvier still managed to make viewers cringe at times, more often that not the hysterics and histrionics were accompanied by laughter and bewilderment.

Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's short tale "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether," the collaborators set the multiple scenes with ominous narrators (Jeremy Petardi and Laura Crispo), who read their lines in an ominous monotone. Michael D'Antoni and Alyssa Van Gorder were visiting a sanatorium, expecting to meet with Dr. Bouvier (Michael Citriniti). Instead, they were greeted by an odd assortment of motley characters, who were so bizarre it was almost impossible to tell the keepers from the inmates. This little detail proved noteworthy later on, when several brusque guards (Robert Bryson, Ricky Deane, and Petardi) burst on the scene to try and sort out who is who.

Director Muzio pieced together the conventions of theatre's bygone era with skill and simplicity, and generated a generally creepy tone throughout. He was aided by his production team, including the unsettling costume and makeup design of LaZaro and the fight choreography of Ian Marshall.

The cast seemed to be having the time of their lives, hamming it up without the least worry of overacting. D'Antoni and Van Gorder got extra points for keeping a straight face while the loonies spilled over the edge of the loony bin. In addition to the other ensemble members mentioned, credit Keith Batza, Angela Sommerfeld, Patricia Power, and Peter Rodriquez with raising the level of scary scare tactics to a new realm.

When the final twist hit, it was somewhat predictable and not altogether convincing. And yet, it no doubt made people smile a sinister smile despite themselves. (This production was just one of many featured at the recent Spotlight On Halloween Festival that were designed to give playgoers the creeps -- and succeeded in making them come back for more thrills and chills.)

  Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Elias Stimac