THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU: one-man show

The Emerald Tablet is thrilled to present an original adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, a one-man show written and directed by Austin, TX-based playwright and actor Charles P. Stites!

Michael Meigs, writing for Central Texas Live Theatre, called Stites’ performance in Chesapeake “the most gripping act of theatre imagination I’ve ever seen in Austin”. Here’s Meig’s review of Stites’ The Island of Dr. Moreau:

Charles P. Stites by Dallas J. NorvellWord-perfect on his script, he transformed instantly from one character to another, endowed each with distinctive voice and accent, and radiated intensity. I felt the same eerie lift that had taken me during Chesapeake, one that goes beyond ordinary mimesis and approaches a hypnotic concentration. In the week that I’ve had to reflect on the experience, I’ve found only one metaphor for what the man is capable of doing in this format: the very experience of reading a vivid, sharply drawn work of fiction. The sort that takes you through the page, through the code of print and language, into some place immediate, foreign and intimate all at the same time.

Charlie Stites’ talent makes me think of the self-exiles in Bradbury’s Farenhite 451, refugees from a world where books were banned.  Each one memorized a book, guarding that precious world within, in obstinate conviction that once controlled and sterile society disintegrated, knowledge and imagination could be regenerated.

He acknowledges right up front that he has freely adapted Wells’ 1896 novel. Moving any novel into the monodrama format requires extensive refocusing, of course. Stites retains the overall thrust of the British writer’s story. At the same time he adds themes and incident that make that dark adventure tale even more harrowing and cast an intriguing additional layer over it.

You may have read the novella. It’s not as well known as The Time Machine, but its theme of the Faustian temptations of science, while 19th-century crude in concept, touches upon concerns that worry the popular imagination still. The narrator is shipwrecked and eventually cast up  on an isolated Pacific island where Dr. Moreau has been applying surgical techniques and neurological manipulation to give animals quasi-human shape and understanding. Moreau the creator has produced remarkable results and a population of almost-humans living in the jungle.  Along with his reluctant and often drunken physician assistant Montgomery, a decadent escapee from New Orleans, Moreau struggles to maintain human dominance over the increasingly wilding population of created beings.

Wells wrote in part to decry the practice of vivisection, held in horror by eminent Victorians but practiced by contemporary scientists. That word never appears in Stites’ presentation, perhaps because of its quaint ring, but our own society has an equally queasy feeling, widely expressed in opposition to animal testing, fur coats, eating meat, and shelters that kill unwanted animals.  Our society is of a divided mind about what’s unhuman and what’s inhumane.

dr. moreau paladin at facebookOn that level, the anger and resistance of the converted animals makes an exciting, fast-moving story.  Their rebellion is of course inevitable, and our narrator is caught in the middle of it. Stites’ account of doings in Moreau’s surgical lab and of the tense confrontations between Master and dominated are drawn with razor-sharp imagination and detail.

Equally intriguing is the adapter’s account of the inhumanity of men subjected to extremes of isolation and stress. Roughly the first quarter of his story is his own invented account of three men in a lifeboat on the open sea, somewhat similar to Stephen Crane’s story The Open Boat. Here, however, the three men had scrambled to abandon the sinking ship, leaving others behind; over their eight-day ordeal they run out of water and out of hope, sinking eventually to the animal level of incipient cannibalism. Human identity and morality are put under tremendous stress, and blood thirst is both actual and symbolic.

Religion, or at least moral behavior derived from religion, is an additional theme, stronger in Stites’ vigorously pruned version than in the book. Wells made The Law a central element in the story, showing the animal-men subservient to Moreau’s law and its representative. That theme is prominent here; but well toward the end of the performance, amidst disorder, Stites lets it slip, almost casually, that our narrator is a priest. That bit of information explains the man’s torment at the zero-sum end game in the open boat.  Once the man becomes the captive of the grotesquely reshaped creatures, he finds that his rosary has disappeared into the hands of one of them that intends to use it to impose his own dominance over fellow creatures.

And Stites cuts our mad scientist some slack, quite unexpectedly. Wells’s Moreau dies in the jungle, ignobly; Stites’s Moreau is stern but distant throughout, but when the animal-men are about to tear him and Montgomery to pieces, he shouts untruths that motivate them to spare the narrator’s life. It’s a most Christian deception.

Read the rest of the review, and get more background on The Island of Dr. Moreauhere. And join us for this extraordinary performance.

You can reserve tickets for each individual performance by clicking here or on the button, below:

THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU: a fever dream steeped in blood
Wednesday October 29th – Saturday November 1, 7:30 pm doors, 8:00 pm show.
Sunday November 2nd, 5:30pm doors, 6:00pm show.
The Emerald Tablet, 80 Fresno St, San Francisco, CA 94133 (map)
$5-10 suggested donation, sliding scale. Nobody turned away for lack of funds.
Delicious complimentary snacks. Drinks by donation.

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