In one man’s battle between good and evil, the lines are often blurred.
This past weekend, Dukesbay Productions opened Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, playwright Jeffry Harcher’s stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. First published in 1886, that is to say during the latter part of the Victoria era, when moral hypocrisy was rampant and the study of the brain and behavior or what we know as psychology was turning traditional thinking upside down. It was highly controversial.
The novella itself is partially a detective story, partially a Gothic horror story and partially science fiction; the play on the other hand, asks some profound questions about free will vs. determinism, that is to say whether or not humans can choose to do good or whether, for one reason or another they are forced by internal or external choices to act morally or immorally.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted into several stage and film versions over the years, recounts the tale of a respectable, doctor, Dr. Jekyll who experiments with a chemical serum, which he drinks. When he is under the influence of the serum, Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde with his appearance and character changing unleashing violent and lustful behavior, or the antithesis of the respectable Dr. Jekyll, who conforms to Victorian mores.
Harcher’s script had four actors play Mr. Hyde, who were also double cast as other actors. Since there were times when Hyde and Jekyll were on stage together having arguments with each other it was confusing. This represented the conscious mind and the subconscious mind or one’s internal Jimminy Cricket and one’s internal Pinocchio. Or, in Victorian terms, the struggle of good and evil taking place within one human.
Director Randy Clark’s production was extremely polished with an exceptional set, by Niclas Olson, which conveyed the menacing atmosphere well, and allowed for close to 25 swift scene changes. Olson’s sound design and the lighting design by Mark Thomason also contributed to the bloodcurdling atmosphere,
The cast was solid and handled the double/triple/quadruple casting well using minimal costume changes, but mostly different accents, which were well done. Standouts were Scott C. Brown, who played everything from the snobby establishment head honcho at a London teaching hospital, Sir Carew, to a Cockney Inspector, to one of Jekyll’s pals. His ability to differentiate the characters was outstanding.
Equally outstanding was Ben Stahl as the main Edward Hyde as well as the Scottish speaking Dr. Lanyon, a friend of Jekyll’s. W. Scott Pinkston as Dr. Jekyll put in an excellent performance as a tortured man, unable to control himself.
Christine Choate as Elizabeth Jelkes, the love interest of Mr. Hyde, perfectly cast as a respectable working class girl, depicted innocence, trust and betrayal with impeccable honesty.
Although it was an extremely strong production, the weakness was in the confusing script itself. Never having read the novella myself and having totally forgotten the films, I found the presence of four actors portraying Mr. Hyde to be confusing as well as the role of the serum.
That having been said, it was an extremely interesting play with witty dialogue about profound philosophical issues concerning the actual physiology of behavior and morality. One hundred and fifty years later, it was very interesting to listen to the Victorian notions of behavior, in light of the advances that have been made in the interim.
The flaws in the script were minor, given that it was such a strong, thoughtful production.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Dukesbay Theater. Merlino Arts Center 508 Sixth Ave #10, Tacoma, WA 98402. Fri, Sat 7:30 pm. Sun 2pm. Til March 26.
For tickets: http://dukesbayjekyllandhyde.eventbrite.com