Sensational exposures. Strange sounds in the night. A spine-tingling chill has settled over the beaches of southern Maryland this October as the Twin Beach Players invite the world premiere of Mark Scharf’s adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau to their stage. Just in time for the unsettlingly spooky season of Halloween, this tremendous community theatre undertaking will set your nerves on edge as you hear the fancifully woven tale of one man’s attempt to escape the dark and sordid secrets of a mysterious island after being lost at sea. Directed by Sid Curl with original music Composed by Robert Snider, this haunting tale of the thriller classic will have you enthralled by its sights, ensnared by its story, and excited to reach the dramatic conclusion.
Creativity knows no bounds, save for budget, in the hands of a dedicated community theatre. Director Sid Curl serves as the show’s Scenic and Lighting Designer and takes these production elements into the shadowy realms of layered conceptualism. His clever use of rotating shadow boxes— created upright with scrim and black-light dayglow paint— revolves the sinister jungle into existence in a manner most ingenious. Curl uses black-light against the dayglow active paint to create an eerie silhouette of the jungle behind these scrims, filled with natural shadow and foreboding wonder as they are rotated into place.
Enhancing the already frightening aesthetic is the prosthetic makeup artistry of Wendy Cranford and Skip Smith. Using full airbrush techniques with custom-molded prosthetics the beast creatures that populate the island become the living stuff of literal nightmares. Not too frightening as to scary wee ones, but constructed with just the right level of garish grotesque intent, Cranford and Smith design a mystifying menagerie of creatures, such as the Hyena-Swine Creature (Mickey Cashman) and the Sayer of the Law (Angela Knepp), who looks like a hybrid of a lion and a bear. Cranford and Smith articulate in great detail the animalistic qualities of their makeup design to augment the nature of the beast in these characters.
Completing the look of these frightening creatures is Costume Designer Dawn Dennison. While relying on baggy burlap earth-toned fabric for the creatures, as this creatures a grungy and uncivilized couture, Dennison rolls out crisp suits for the three gentlemen, if they may so be called, of the island. The slightly tarnished cream color used on Edward Prendick distinguishes him from the sterile white of Doctor Moreau and Montgomery, setting him apart in his looks and more symbolically in his ethics and morals.
Sound Designer Rick Thompson completes the aural experience of the show with a nightmarish soundscape that underscores a great many of the scenes. Infusing Robert Snider’s original compositions to fluidly assist scene changes, Thompson helps distract the audience during these cumbersome transitions. Thompson’s great achievement is found in the horrid sounds that the beasts and creatures make and in his unique layering of the sound segments used during the nightmare sequence. Spooky and unsettling, Thompson gives the show an aural zest that heightens the sense of tension throughout the performance.
Inclusive and community oriented, the cast is comprised of actors from all over the North Beach area. Standout creature performances include the intense Ape-Creature (Brianna Bennett) who howls and chants “the law” most intensely when Edward first encounters the beasts in the jungle. Slinking her way through the blackened shadows of the jungle, Alayna Stewart is a most convincing Leopard-Creature, with her physicality matching that of the great jungle cat. Puma-Woman (Jenny Leise) is also a ferocious entity that growls and howls with the best of them. Her table-encounter with Edward is most startling, her physical motions in this scene showing the real differences between human and beast.
The most articulate portrayal of animalistic behavior comes from M’ling (Melly Byram.) Loping about with a hunched and distorted figure, Byram embodies something that might not be human, which keeps the audience puzzling about the great dark and mysterious secrets of the island. Byram affects a gravelly broken character voice, as do all of the animal-human hybrid creatures, which makes for an even creepier and more mysterious engagement as she works her way through scenes with Edward and Montgomery.
Ethan Croll, playing the narrative Edward Prendick delivers a sharp character-driven presence of mind. With fury in his convictions his dialogue exchanges with Doctor Moreau and Montgomery are compelling and edgy. These create a surge of contrast when juxtaposed against his more woefully nostalgic narrations in his monologues that often precede the opening of scenes. Playing well against his elders (Rick Thompson and James Lanson Weeks, in the title role and Montgomery respectively) Croll finds the niche of his character’s core and exposes it soundly. Weeks also delivers a commanding performance, particularly when it comes to imitating the drunken tendencies of his guilt-riddled conscious.
Playwright Mark Scharf has captured the essence of the show’s mysterious tone in his lurid prose. The lush imagery which populates the lengthy speeches of the characters is fertile, sprouting ghastly beauty among the atrocities of the good doctor’s work. Scharf’s focus of storytelling is honed sharply in the three male leads, with Edward Prendick as the protagonistic narrator. Humanizing and simultaneously vilifying the title character (played with an edge of cracked madness by Rick Thompson), Scharf uses his keen command of dialogue to construct these dynamic characters.
A master of words, Scharf uses grisly poeticism to craft a character’s internal psyche, exposing it through monologues that resonate on the ear with verve. Doctor Moreau’s extrapolation of the scalpel, explaining how he sees it as a thing of beauty and how Montgomery (James Lanson Weeks) and Edward see it only for destruction, is one of the more poignant character-defining passages in the work. Each of the three leads have chimerically constructed character voices that are vastly different from one another, which in turn makes them remarkably fascinating individuals.
Building a palpable sense of tension into the script as a whole, Scharf adapts the work from the familiar silver-screen tale into something that works with fluidity upon the stage. His ability to capture the tangible soul of a story and still make it uniquely his own, as his signature marks are peppered liberally throughout the piece, is astonishing. Blending one’s own voice into notions already fabricated is no easy task, but is one that Scharf measures up to with vigor. Resoundingly eloquent with his dialogue, his mastery of character and plot conception, and a sharp articulation for biting interactions that authentically and naturally create dramatic moments and heightened plot reveals, Scharf work is perfect for the season and sublime fit for the theatre.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission
The Island of Doctor Moreau plays through November 1, 2015 at The Twin Beach Players in the North Beach Boys & Girls Club— 9021 Dayton Avenue in North Beach, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or in advance online.