The Rogue Artists Ensembles lavishly mounted, highly ambitious adaptation of writer Neil Gaiman and illustrator Dave McKeans 1995 graphic novel is a marvel of expressionistic spectacle. Unfortunately, no amount of scenic splendor can camouflage a torpid, overly elliptical script lacking even the rudimentary character shadings or conflict-driven scene dynamics essential to compelling drama. Much of the blame must go to director-adaptor (with Miles Taber) Sean T. Cawelti and his quasi-commedia mise en scène. Designer Joyce Hutters meticulously re-created Punch and Judy puppet show forms the allegorical touchstone for Gaimans moody mystery of a man (Taber) coming to terms with fractured childhood memories of a fateful summer spent at his grandfathers seaside arcade. Taking his cue from this, Caweltis staging employs a staggering array of grotesque masks (by Patrick Rubio), shadow puppetry, entrancing digital video projections (by Brian White) and a haunting score (by composer Ben Phelps) in order to evoke the cinematic sweep of McKeans illustrations. In his very faithfulness to his source, however, he fails to translate its visual syntax into the spoken language of the theater. But if that leaves little for his actors, its a field day for Caweltis outstanding crew of talented designers and musicians. This teams ultimate tribute may be the fact that the more one ignores the live performance for the shows awesome production values, the better the evening becomes.
Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Starts: July 18. Continues through Sept. 7, 2008