Review: ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ at The Emerald Tablet (**1/2)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: **1/2)

Charles P. Stites will haunt your dreams with his one man performance of "The Island of Dr. Moreau".  Photo Credit: Austin Chronicle.
Charles P. Stites will haunt your nightmares with his one man performance of “The Island of Dr. Moreau”. Photo Credit: Austin Chronicle.
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ plays at The Emerald Tablet in North Beach 10/30 through 11/02, 2014.)

Lapo Guzzini, one of the event producers at North Beach’s “creativity salon” at The Emerald Tablet saw this production of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” at Austin’s Frontera Fest in 2013 and immediately asked actor Charles P. Stites if he would be interested in performing the piece in San Francisco.

It is easy to understand Guzzini’s enthusiasm. Wells’ story is deliciously engaging, mysterious and thrilling, full of spiritual and philosophical import, and dramatically effective. Charles P. Stites tells it well and is quite astonishing as he spins with impressive virtuosity through a series of carefully realized characterizations, from the erudite doctor himself, to his drunken assistant Montgomery, to the half-human, half-animal denizens of Moreau’s mad laboratory.

Without the benefit of sets, lighting design, costumes or other actors, Stites succeeds in making us experience a life boat adrift on the high seas, a shipboard infirmary, Moreau’s elegant island home, and a forest haunted by violence and madness.

Although the overall performance is a bit uneven, and would benefit from the ministrations of a skillful director, its high points are very high indeed.

The opening sequence set in a life boat adrift at sea, as three men listen to the terrified screams of those who remain on board a sinking ship, is truly terrifying. The horror of the sharks surrounding the raft,  the fear and hysteria of the men, and the spiritual crisis their situation creates are all convincingly portrayed. It is a scene not easily forgot, beautifully written and skillfully performed.

Stites’ script successfully compacts the story, which is easy to follow, and fully and intelligently realizes the philosophical and religious implications that Wells embedded into the text.

On opening night, the Giants won the series, and the theatre was surrounded by shouts, car horns, flashing fireworks and general pandemonium. None of this upset Mr. Stites’ concentration and, indeed, he seemed to revel in the excitement, allowing it into his performance. He is a very good actor indeed.

Overall, this is an impressive show that will haunt audiences long after Halloween.

For further information, click here.

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“The Island of Dr. Moreau”, adapted as a solo performance by Charles P. Stites, from the story by H. G. Wells.

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