BY the time The Invention of Morel finally decides to stop loitering about the Lowell House dining room and get going, the last act is nearly over. Nearly over, yet not quite, and for a short while this "science fiction fantasy" comes up with the chills it has threatened to deliver all evening.
What happens before the last moments of director Joseph Timko's adaption of Adolpho Bioy Casares' story makes very little sense. Eight bizarre people, vacationing on an otherwise abandoned island, stand around for six out of eight scenes before letting us know what's doing. Self-consciously they sip drinks and smoke cigarettes, all the while commenting obliquely on thunderstorms and ghosts, and on such standbys as truth and illusion. Every so often a long-winded narrator, sort of a supernatural Walt Disney, interrupts to fill those details too difficult to dramatize. Sound and light effects also butt in from time to time, but they prove merely idle threats of impending excitement. We get only ambiguity for suspense, a tape recorder for horror.
While the script's vagueness could have been eliminated, perhaps the production's lack of technical proficiency was unavoidable. A house show cannot possibly have the financial resources necessary to supply all the special effects a science-fiction entertainment requires. Rarely do we find projects such as The Invention of Morel on any stage, partly at least because the cost of doing them right is prohibitive.
Without a solid physical structure to support it, the Lowell House production gambles all on the writing, and loses. The play itself bears little resemblance to anything one associates with the dramatic. Bogged down in an awkward effort to tie the plot to some unclear philosophical scheme, the first act is smothered to death by an endless procession of ponderous lines loaded with unsubtle metaphysical overtones. The story and even the identity of some of the characters remain pretty much in the dark. The dialogue, such as it is, is so poorly organized that each scene can produce little more than confusion. Only when Morel belatedly reveals his remarkable invention, does everything make a fuzzy sort of sense.
The peculiar structure (extraordinarily choppy scenes, long narrative passages) of this weak adaption suggests it is faithful to its source--no doubt too faithful. When a play tries hard to resemble a book, both play and book are bound to suffer.
Most of the actors attempted to compensate for their unpleasant situation with a spookiness that gives them the air of Charles Addams characters wired for sound. David Rome, as Morel, brings in a touch of Bela Lugosi as well, only to find out he is in the wrong play.