It is a real tribute to the cast of Lifeline Theatre’s adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau” that the effectiveness of their animal cries, shrieks and bestial movements almost make up for flimsy rubber masks that look like they came from the corner drugstore and animal “hair” that looks as convincing as a child’s stuffed toy, to say nothing of visible seams, zippers and lack of makeup at flesh points, especially surrounding the eyes. What a different show this could be if appliances and make-up were used as skillfully as the actors’ ability to inhabit that ambiguous world between animal and human being. That said, and despite a cast that acts its heart out on both sides of the beast line, the real problem with this show is it has no specific interpretation of Wells’ intention, which granted is much easier to get across in print than on stage. The end result is a lot of impressively choreographed chaos on stage that loses any possible empathy on the audience’s part because it is so relentless and unfocused. I lost count as to how many times ear-shattering gunshots were fired at characters, each death acted out with more agony than the last. But what is the point? Certainly the issues that Wells was raising more than a century ago about Darwin’s challenges to our identity as human beings and the morality of using our feeling fellow creatures as mere objects for our own scientific curiosity (to say nothing of food and clothing) have become increasingly relevant, but this adaptation goes for the story’s “House of Pain” rather than its house of brain. (Dennis Polkow)
At Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, (773)761-4477. This production is now closed.