Red Dragon, Defiant Theatre, at the Firehouse. Once again Defiant has put much talent into a venture with little moral or cultural value, just as it did in its unsettling 1995 adaptation of Steven King’s Nazi creepshow Apt Pupil. Red Dragon–adapted from Thomas Harris’s detective horror story, which spawned Michael Mann’s mediocre film Manhunter and Harris’s sequel The Silence of the Lambs–presents the serial killer as an almost mythological figure, cruel and twisted but compelling.

Pitting serial killer Francis Dolarhyde (a chilling, daring performance by Chris Thometz) against brilliant but tormented police detective Will Graham (the sturdy, reliable Dan Smith), this shocker might have been an effective if somewhat hackneyed examination of the fine line between cop and criminal. But adapter-director Christopher Johnson turns exploration into exploitation by surrounding his murderers with characters so flat and underdeveloped that the ascetic, William Blake-reading killers are the most intriguing figures onstage while their victims are merely simpleminded dragon food. Extended misogynistic flashbacks to the killer’s childhood, in which his mother abandoned him, his peers mocked him, and his grandmother stuck his penis between the blades of a scissors when he wet his bed, are unconvincing as drama and unsatisfactory as psychology.

Defiant’s production is filled with effective flourishes: all too realistic Super-8 footage of Dolarhyde’s murders, a fiendishly clever set, even a dragon. But no amount of technical skill or pretensions to high art can disguise a bloody TV cop show with a moral vacuum at its core.