The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, January 31, 2014, Arts

The Island of Dr. Moreau: A Fever Dream Steeped in Blood

Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd., 512/474-7886
Final performance: Sunday, Feb. 2, noon
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

To see Charlie Stites is to think of all those Average Guys Standing Around the Water Cooler in any number of office-set Hollywood movies. This Stites, your mind's eye informs you, is an ordinary joe in every possible way. And then he does something like this, and, whoa: fucking force of nature, dude.

The story he relates is about the forces of nature – or the forces of animal nature perverted by the more sapient and damnable nature of humanity. Stites performs H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, and he does it so well that it just about wounds you. This is an example of highly professional work in the midst of FronteraFest. For one thing, Stites' abridgment of Wells' tale is deft and effective, condensing the novel into what's presented in 90 minutes and still remains intelligible and smoothly flowing and as powerful as a rogue elephant. Also, the sheer memorization requires a prodigious effort, and Stites nails it. And finally: The man can act, credibly transforming himself into an array of human characters and animal grotesques, opening the floodgates of emotion as required by the story, bringing the whole ungodly nightmare to vivid, unforgettable life. Welcome, friends, to the House of Pain.

Bottom line: Maybe you don't like the books-on-tape thing? But if you do like hearing such renditions of written works – especially one as fierce and unsettling as this Wells classic – then don't miss this show. What Stites does here – live, totally off-book and wonderfully lighted – is not just better than most multiple takes cobbled together from a celebrity's script-in-hand reading in some audio studio thousands of miles away: I'm suggesting it may be better than any of them.

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