The shriek of a hyena. The growl of a leopard. The trumpet of an elephant. Dozens of bright red eyes light up on a dark stage, careening to and fro as the animal noises increase in number and volume, cascading in and out in a discordant frenzy. This is the mysterious world of Lake Braddock Secondary School’s production of "The Island of Dr. Moreau," a haunting tale of science gone wrong that, in our present day and age, seems only too possible.
The play, based on the 1896 science fiction novel by H.G. Wells, follows Edward Prendick (Kit Benz), an aspiring biologist who survives a shipwreck only to be stranded on an uncharted island. Its sole occupants are the visionary Dr. Moreau (Tom Mason), his assistant Ellison Montgomery (Stephanie Ramsey), and a score of "natives" who, as Prendick quickly discovers, are the appalling results of numerous vivisections conducted by Moreau to transform animals into humans.
Lake Braddock’s "Moreau" was a positively bone-chilling experience, highlighted by several talented leads and an exceptional ensemble. Perhaps the most extraordinary element of the production was the makeup, designed by cast member Sarah Purgal that was practically flawless in depicting the island’s various animals.
A strong set of lead performers performed with finesse and intensity. Benz, portraying a pensive Prendick, showed an impressive progression of character throughout the play. Stephanie Ramsey as Montgomery had a commanding stage presence and a clear voice that enunciated every word of the rapid dialogue with conviction. As the Doctor himself, Tom Mason was externally aged by whitened hair and a scruffy beard, but his physicality and vocal inflection made the transformation complete.
The play would not have been half as powerful were it not for the ensemble of man-creatures. Each and every member of this group understood his/her assigned creature perfectly, never once forgetting to move and sound and behave like an animal. Two of these creatures, M’Ling (Katie Baukin) and the Ape Man (Nathan Brown) were particularly notable in their characters, being simultaneously likeable and pitiable.
Audiences beware: "Moreau" is not for the faint of heart. Blood, gore, guts — all these elements and more were strikingly lifelike. Combined with disturbing sound and lighting effects, the show’s climax is nothing short of terrifying. During the slower parts of the story, however, the nature soundtrack sometimes proved distracting.
"The Island of Dr. Moreau" was an intense and horrific production that left audience members gripping their seats. Its central themes, the preeminence of mankind, the idea of playing God and the theory of Darwinism, certainly made for a disturbing experience that left much to be pondered about our society as we delve into genetic manipulation.