The Island Of Dr. Moreau
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
March 9, 2007
There is an insert in the program for this production that is a photocopy of a newspaper article for which the headline reads, "Britain signals it will allow creation of animal-human genetic mixes." Whoa! It's hard to believe that there's not more chatter about this in the media. But this is the perfect companion article for this play. When HG Wells wrote The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1896, he was trying to create a dark vision of a scientist obsessed with God-like power, but I wonder if he ever thought his vision would come true. In an interesting little bit of irony the first film version (1932) of the book was banned by British censors (much to Wells's delight). Evidently, times have changed. Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds but the question remains are we better off because of these advances.
Wells sets his story on a remote island where a geneticist, Dr. Moreau, has been transforming animals into walking, talking (well, sort-of talking) humans. His creations consider Moreau their father and he considers himself God. He gives them laws, like commandments, that they must recite and obey. A Christian missionary named Prentice becomes stranded on the island. Moreau has created a girl named Lota from a black panther who is beautiful in every way and he tries to get Prentice to mate with her as the ultimate culmination of his work. However, Moreau's obsession with this coupling ultimately leads to his downfall.
Dan Bianchi has taken the story and whittled it down to a tight hour-long radio play. What I particularly liked about this cutting is that Bianchi highlights Wells's comparison of science and religion. Missionaries come into a remote community and attempt to transform the natives into Christians like themselves, much as Moreau is attempting to transform the local animals of this island into humans like himself. Bianchi's adaptation has a brilliant arc that rises to a powerful climax, and leaves us with a lot to think about.
Bianchi's company, Radiotheatre, is inspired by the days when folks would sit around the radio to hear a good yarn complete with sound effects and actors creating real characters. There's not much to see on stage and you may wonder why one would want to come to watch a radio play. I think the best reason is because you get the benefits of the group experience. You feel the audience's energy change as the action rises and falls.
I was truly impressed with the vocal characterizations. Cash Tilton leads the cast as Dr. Moreau. Tilton's timing is impeccable and his Moreau is perfectly smug and egotistical. I also particularly liked Aaron Mathias as Prentice and William Greville as Moreau's assistant Montgomery. Elizabeth Burke is rock solid with all of her characters, most notably Lota. Robert Nguyen and Patrick O'Connor hold up their ends as Mungo and the Narrator respectively.
One of the most integral aspects of this production is the fantastic and utterly evocative sound design. Bainchi uses a variety of animal and jungles sounds and combines them with some well-selected music. I had a great time at this show. Storytelling is an art that is slipping away but Bianchi and his company are working hard to keep it alive and thriving. I think he deserves our support.