On Stage: Where the Wild Things Cower

by Chuck Conconi

REVIEW: Synetic takes on H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”

Pasquale Guiducci as Sayer in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Synetic Theater. (Photo by Johnny Shryock)

Pasquale Guiducci as Sayer in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Synetic Theater. (Photo by Johnny Shryock)

Once again Synetic Theater’s movement and dance under the creative choreography of Irina Tsikurishvili is provocative and exciting and her talented guidance makes the recent production of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” a haunting backdrop to the H.G. Wells 1898 story of pain and anti-vivisection.

Wells created what has become a template for horror stories about mad scientists indifferent to any suffering or terror they might provoke in their quest for whatever perverse goal they are attempting. In Dr. Moreau’s bloody experiments, he is trying to create human-like creatures out of animals and he controls his hybrid beasts by inflicting pain and a strict rule of the law.

The story revolves around Parker, a young scientist (a butterfly man) who has been washed up on a tropical island where he comes into contact with Dr. Moreau, played by Pata Tsikurishvili who also directs. Parker quickly learns that Dr. Moreau is a scientist who has been forced from polite society because of especially cruel vivisection experiments. Tsikurishvili plays Dr. Moreau sympathetically, not as a traditional “mad scientist.” Dr. Moreau seems surprised that his experiments are not understood.

Dr. Moreau’s experiments have created pathetic beast-people, whom he rules over with an iron fist — his laws demand the avoidance of any bestial behavior such as eating flesh or walking on all fours. Any infractions bring painful punishments. In his view, they are mere animals, falling short of his idea of perfection. As such, he regards the pain he inflicts as the unavoidable necessity of his experimental work.

Parker (Alex Mills) fears he may become one of Dr. Moreau’s horrible experiments and rushes into the jungle where he meets a colony of half human/half animal creatures cunningly led by the Sayer of the Law, Pasquale Guiducci. The creatures cavort about on a type of jungle gym apparatus created by set designer Phil Charlwood.

While the stage movement is athletic and exciting with magical lighting by Brittany Diliberto contributing a haunting atmosphere, this production never feels menacing even though it has its bloody moments. Kendra Rai’s costume design for the beasts seems more whimsical than horrifying.

While the stage movements of the entire cast, especially of the Feline Beast (Tori Bertocci) are up to the uniquely effective Synetic Theater’s impressive standards, the darkness of H.G. Wells’ genius has eluded this production.

The Island of Dr. Moreau” continues through November 2, 2014 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S Bell St, Arlington, VA 22202. Tickets start at $35 and are available at 703-824-8061 and online here.

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