The Rogue Artists Ensemble’s lavishly mounted, highly ambitious adaptation of writer Neil Gaiman and illustrator Dave McKean’s 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 Hutter’s meticulously re-created Punch and Judy puppet show forms the allegorical touchstone for Gaiman’s moody mystery of a man (Taber) coming to terms with fractured childhood memories of a fateful summer spent at his grandfather’s seaside arcade. Taking his cue from this, Cawelti’s 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 McKean’s 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, it’s a field day for Cawelti’s outstanding crew of talented designers and musicians. This team’s ultimate tribute may be the fact that the more one ignores the live performance for the show’s 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

LA Weekly