If Tod Browning and the Brothers Quay had collaborated on a stage version of The Island of Dr. Moreau, the results might have resembled this whimsical Gothic fairy tale by writers Questa Gleason and Chelsea Sutton (Sutton also directs). Though billed as a "holiday-themed show," the production's most refreshing aspect is the absence of a Santa or a sleigh or a shred of tinsel. Rather than the North Pole, the setting here is a carnival freak show (courtesy of Lucila Caro's sideshow-tent set) run by the nefarious barker and black witch, Rena (assistant choreographer Danielle Cintron). The dominatrix-like Rena's form of vivisection comes via a knife thrust from her magic dagger, which reverses H.G. Wells by turning hapless humans into grotesque beasts. Her victims include Wilhelmina (Beth Ricketson), who has been transformed into a crone Tarot reader; the henchmen/slaves Santo (choreographer Mason Hallberg) and Freak (Sahar Yousefi); and star attraction Zada (Gleason), "The Wooden Monstrosity." When Rena's itinerant hell show crosses paths with the penniless Edwin (Jeff Newman), however, his love-at-first-sight passion for Zada may just prove the white magic of Rena's undoing. Hallberg's charming dance sequences and the addition of a weekly guest burlesque artist (the fetching, temporarily tulle-attired Bebe Firefly at the performance reviewed) inject some appealing spectacle, but the star of the show is designer Lori Meeker and her vividly expressive monster masks and costumes. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
Fridays, Saturdays, 9 p.m.; Sundays, 8 p.m. Starts: Dec. 3. Continues through Dec. 19, 2010