The Island of Dr. Moreau. Globalstage. 1999 118 min. $27 (pp)
Ages 10-adult. This stage adaptation (by Seattle's Taproot Theatre) of H.G. Wells' science fiction novel is exceedingly well done. Edward Prendick is rescued from a shipwreck and cast off to a mysterious island with Dr. Montgomery and his cargo of animals. The island is home to the experimental laboratory of Dr. Moreau, an exiled London scientist. Eventually, Prendick becomes aware of Dr. Moreau's questionable experiments with animals and raises questions of humaneness, ethical behavior, and religion. The conflict between civilized behavior and basic instincts results in tragedy and an unexpected twist. The small but superbly talented cast and who rely on minimal props carry the tale. Direct camera angles focus on the main action and black-outs between scenes enhance the production's usefulness for classroom discussion. Like other Globalstage productions including the imaginative Playing From The Heart (BKL J1 1999), Professor McNamer and a young companion introduce and discuss the play and interview an actor who discusses the dialects, accents, etc. This excellent production is a showstopping addition to public library and school literature/theatre video collection. -- Debra McLeod
Los Angeles Times
November 4, 1999
'Dr. Moreau,' 'Heart'
Taped Theater Treasures for Youths
Video: The Island of Dr. Moreau. 113 minutes. $27.
Playing From the Heart. 98 minutes. $27.
Globalstage Productions Inc. (888) 324-5623.
By LYNNE HEFFLEY, Times Staff Writer
Globalstage, filling a unique niche in the home video market, seeks out and tapes theater-for-youth productions here and abroad for audiences ages 7 to 14. These two splendid productions are prize finds, the best to date.
Taproot Theatre of Seattle presents a dynamic production of "The Island of Dr. Moreau," H.G. Wells' haunting horror tale about a scientist who experiments on animals in his island House of Pain, trying to eradicate the beast in them and turn them into men.
Among the terrific cast are Joshua M. Bott as shipwrecked biologist and unwilling witness Edward Prendick; Nolan Palmer as embittered Dr. Moreau, with delusions of godhood; and Dawn Adora Plummer, who is striking as Moreau's finest achievement: a perfect woman crafted from a wild puma.
Sean R. Gaffney wrote the literate, taut script. Director Scott Nolte's staging is equally taut, giving charged dimension to scenes with Moreau's failures--creatures he was unable to make fully human, who worship, obey and fear him--and with Kate's gradual discovery of herself.
Throughout, Moreau justifies his mission to the audience--"You call horror what is beauty, if you had the eyes to see"--and demands that they consider questions about theology, morality and humanity: Where is the line between beast and man, god and man?
Done on a small stage, with a small cast, it's riveting stuff, created not only to entertain but also to challenge its young audience.
Globalstage scores high marks again with "Playing From the Heart," a fact-based world premiere production about hearing-impaired professional solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie.
Creatively filmed in London by the BBC and performed by Wimbledon's Polka Theatre for Children, the lyrical drama, written by Charles Way and directed by Vicky Ireland, tells of this real-life Scottish artist's driving ambition to be a professional musician from the age of 8, when she began to lose her hearing, until her acceptance as a teenager into Britain's prestigious Royal Academy of Music.
"When I was a child, I could hear fields waking up, stretching their muddy arms. . . . I could hear the wind comb the long grass," remembers Glennie (stunningly portrayed by Louise Bolton). When she can no longer hear outside sounds, she exquisitely tunes into sounds "inside"--her father's heartbeat, the vibrations of percussion instruments. (Her understanding dad is played by Ian Stuart Robertson.)
Afterward, the real Glennie, a Grammy nominee this year (for best classical crossover album) who performed here in January with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, speaks about the play and her life.
The only miscues in these two fine offerings are stilted introductory and post-show segments with host Elizabeth McNamer and her game, young companion, Preston. Discussion of the plays' themes and historical and social context would be more engaging if McNamer, a professor of British origin, was considerably less pedantic and less prone to unchallenged absolutes.
School Library Journal.
Gr. 7 Up-This excellent video is the sixth in a series by Globalstage Productions, which has as its mission to travel the world filming the best in children's theatre. The adapted script, based on H.G. Wells' science fiction classic, is faithful to the original except for the creative ending and the framework which allows the shipwrecked character, Prendick, to tell the story as a flashback while being questioned by doctors in the mental institution where he has ended up after being rescued from the island. The play is preceded and followed by a somewhat pedantic discourse by the host, Dr. Elizabeth McNamer. She and her "nephew," Preston, arrive in Seattle by ferry and proceed to the Taproot Theatre where the production was filmed before a live audience. The talented cast of male and female actors play multiple roles and do an excellent job of portraying the "beast-people" of Dr. Moreau's creation. After being hounded out of London, Dr. Moreau fled to a deserted island where he hopes to have the freedom to conduct unorthodox animal experiments which will create human beings from animals through surgery. The resulting creatures, which can walk upright and speak, but whose intelligence is limited, cause Moreau to believe he is nearing success. The untimely arrival of Prendick changes everything, and soon the island soon erupts in violence and death. The plot raises many ethical and philosophical questions. How do we define what is human? What separates man from beast? Is it moral to conduct experiments on animals? Does man have the right to play God? The current debate regarding bioengineering adds to the potential for discussion and will increase the video's usefulness for high school humanities classes. The profound themes and occasional violent scenes will limit its use with younger students. -Jerry Beth Shannon
By Randy Pitman.
Once you get past the rather densely philosophical opening 15 minutes of the play, the Seattle-based Taproot Theatre's version of H.G. Wells' prescient (1896) cautionary tale of science running roughshod over over ethics offers a compelling sci-fi fable that-setting aside its mad scientist on a secluded island setting---seems remarkably timely and morally cutting-edge. For those who somehow missed John Frankenheimer's over the top (though unfairly maligned) 1996 film version with Marlon Brando, the basic plot finds a shipwrecked Prendick washed ashore on an exotic island, where the egomaniacal Dr. Moreau is turning animals into humans. Surrounded by the half-animal/half-human creations (creatively, even occasionally heart-wrenchingly, portrayed by a crack ensemble of actors), Prendick is initially horrified by Moreau's assumption of the Creator's work, yet even Prendick begins to harbor doubts when confronted with the grace, intelligence and beauty of Kate (formally a puma). You'll have to watch the tape yourself to see whether human or beast wins out in this age-old (and new) story of humans desiring "knowledge faster than understanding" and seeking "information over wisdom." Kudos to the Taproot players, Sean Gaffney's penetrating script, and Globalstage for capturing another fine performance on video. Bookended by commentary from Professor Elizabeth McNamer and young Preston Blakeley, this is sure to provoke excellent discussions, and is DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED.
Rocky Mountain News/ Scripps Howard Wire Service
October 1, 1999
Kid Vid, This Week's Top Videos.
By Doug Wagner
... "The hits just keep comin' from Globalstage. In the past year, its series of videotaped plays for kids has released Playing form the Heart, about a deaf percussionist, and Far from the Madding Crowd. Yes, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy. Yes, I did say this is a series for kids.
The secret's in the acting. Judging by my 5-year-old daughter's engrossment in these productions, the subject matter is no problem. She appears to be mesmerized by the expert but obvious pretending. It's nothing like watching a cartoon or even a movie; for her, I think, watching a movie is still akin to spying on other people's lives. With a play, confined to a stage, it's clear there's acting going on.
And in the case of the Globalstage videos, the acting's impeccable. It would have to be to draw her into the latest release, a production of H. G. Wells' philosophy-laden Island of Dr. Moreau. When megalomaniacal Moreau (Nolan Palmer) delivers monologues about playing God and defends his experiments that have resulted in this transformation of animals in "humans," you might expect kids to run screaming or at least nod off. But it's just too riveting. Palmer's is such a commanding performance that you never question his ability to convince his subjects that they've always been human.
For older kids, say 10 and up, who have an appreciation for science fiction that goes deeper than special-effects worship, this production (by Seattle's Taproot Theatre) is an irresistible package. Same goes for us really old kids.
September 13, 1999
H.G. Wells's 1896 novel makes a fine transition (worlds away from the ghastly feature film) to the stage in this production, the latest in the fine series of Globalstage Theatre Adventures. The series framework remains strong: British professor Elizabeth McNamer and 12-year-old Preston Blakeley introduce the premise of the play, this time as they arrive in Seattle, Wash., via ferryboat. The two disembark, and along with home viewers, attend the Taproot [Theatre] performance. The excellent company of actors vividly re-creates Well's tropical island drama, where shipwrecked Edward Prendick stumbles upon the awful experiments (surgically transformaing animals into humans) of Dr. Moreau. Weighty issues -- what differentiates humans from the beasts, nature vs. nurture and Darwinism vs. religion or creationism quickly jump to the foreground. The actors never enter Dr. Moreau's gruesome laboratory, the "House of Pain," but younger viewers may be alarmed by a few violent skirmishes and the presence of a pistol. Following the play, McNamer and Blakeley briefly chat with actor Joshua Bott (who plays Prendick) and visit the Settle zoo for a quick look at gorillas and pumas, which figure prominently in Wells's story. Ages 9-up.
Dallas Morning News
Monday, August 9, 1999
Getting back to quality [referring to the preceeding Disney review], Globalstage Productions makes no bones about going for the cerebral set with its video versions of challenging theater for children. Think older children, though -- mature and curious enough to explore the classics in a dramatic, interpretive way.
Its latest production, H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, has been adapted by Sean Gaffney, managing director of Taproot Theatre in Seattle. The passionately expressed performances bring home the disturbing story of a man trying to create humans from animals.
The Orange County Register
September 12, 1999
Here's an easy, inexpensive way to get your kids interested in theater. A San Francisco-based company called Globalstage makes high-quality and attractive video versions of children's theater productions. I looked at its latest release, an adaptation of H.G. Wells' "The Island of Dr. Moreau" performed by members of Seattle's Taproot Theatre, and was wowed by its quality and kid-friendliness. Rather than plant a camera in the center of the audience (the dreaded "archival" effect), Globalstage approaches its subjects cinematically, with active camera work and imaginative editing.