Horror Chambre of Perfection | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Horror Chambre of Perfection 

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HORROR CHAMBRE OF PERFECTION, Mammals, at the Space. In the creepy 1959 film The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, a power-crazed surgeon proposes a complete facial transplant for his daughter, whose countenance has been disfigured. Playwright Bob Fisher, inspired by this retro thriller, has made his version a commentary on cosmetic vanity, and the Mammals' treatment is gleefully Grand Guignol, with ludicrously low-tech special effects and a quasi-baroque score that punctuates speeches declaimed with the ponderous solemnity of dinosaurs on the march.

But Fisher seems undecided about how far he wants to venture into Mel Brooks territory to ridicule his source. The actors play their roles with rock-ribbed conviction, allowing us to find our own laughs--or not--in the melodramatic material (Alex Honzen's booming voice and rolling eyes are particularly effective: he's a deliciously over-the-top mad doctor). But we also get artificial hands represented by childish cardboard cutouts, police-lab evidence transported in a chafing dish, and plenty of scatological jokes. The resulting uneven tone undermines the shivery enjoyment still to be found in this period horror story.

A short piece on the same program, First Epiphany, is also concerned with, uh, saving face. In this undistinguished Ionesco-like exercise, an old man with a head shaped like a foot searches in vain for love. But his tarsophalangeal mask (whose designer isn't credited in the program) is the piece's only saving grace.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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