Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - ACT

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Tickets and Information
April 10 – May 10, 2009

Chuang Tzu, a 300’s B.C.E. Chinese philosopher wrote a story paraphrased here:
Last night I dreamed I was a butterfly. Now, I do not know if I am a man who dreamed I was a butterfly, or a butterfly who is dreaming I am a man.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson has been told and retold in countless versions from the 1941 Spencer Tracy film, to the 1997 Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn Broadway musical (eventually starring David Hasslehoff), Jekyll and Hyde and even to Seattle’s own Open Circle Theater’s recent movement and dance piece, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The children’s television show Wishbone has portrayed the story and hundreds of tales using the personality splitting motif have popped up over the years. Now, Jeffery Hatcher (well-known for adapting to stage Tuesdays with Morrie as well as penning many other stage plays, books, and achieving several major literary awards) brings the chilling story to life once more in a rather original light.

Deborah Fialko, Brandon Whitehead, Bradford Farwell, David Anthony Lewis and David Pichette. Photo by Chris Bennion, 2009.

In most of the existing versions of the story a love-interest for Dr. Jekyll is introduced on whom Mr. Hyde will prey leading to an inevitable confrontation between the two sides of the man. Firstly, this love-interest does not exist in the original Stevenson novella but rather is created in these retellings, as director R. Hamilton Wright puts it, for “salability, trying to give Jekyll and Hyde someone to tell the story to” (from the Encore interview). However, in Hatcher’s adaptation, the love-interest is for Hyde, not for Jekyll, and is a much less conventional love story, adding a certain mystery and tempting immorality to the adventure.

On the whole, Wright’s direction is fantastic. As a thirty-year veteran of the Seattle Theatre scene, he knows his way around a play. Where the show falls flat is in the duplicity of Hyde and the feeling that much of the energy is spread too thin. While at certain moments the multiple Hydes adds greatly to the danger for Dr. Jekyll (Bradford Farwell), overall it seems to disperse the immanent threat rather than redouble it four-fold. This is not to say, however, that the performance itself falls short. On the contrary, the show is a very enjoyable and an exciting two-hour ride. The truly ensemble cast all bring forth their most potent pity and spite in this production.

Technically speaking, the show is a symphony of precision. Flying doors in and out, bringing forth laboratories from the ground and evoking the spirit of the moment through light and sound and gorgeously accurate costumes, the designers (Matthew Smucker on Scenic Design, Brendan Patrick Hogan on Sound, Rick Paulsen on Lights and Marcia Dixcy Jory with Costumes) bring the heat in each of their elements.

Though there has yet to be an adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that sticks faithfully and truly to the story (this production as no exception), an exciting story is worth much more than a necessarily precise one. While at times dispersing the energy of the action rather than focusing it, this show does wrap itself up well and leave the audience guessing, by the finale, and reaching for their copy of Chuang Tzu’s “Butterfly.”

Review by Nigel Andrews

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