Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
-Theatre Review by Rachel Wooley–
The difficulty of adapting a book to film or stage lies in determining how to stay true to the original while taking liberties to make the story fit its new medium. Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, playing at the Vagabond theatre Feb 28th through March 30th, is not completely true to the book. Instead, the show reinvents this classic Victorian drama, maintaining the 1880’s setting, but offering a fresh, new message that is more relevant to modern audiences.
Conceptually, the play makes some interesting moves. There are four actors who appear as Hyde (Tom Moore, Michael Panzarotto, Thom Peters, and Michael Styer), and each of them also takes on additional roles throughout the play. A woman named Elizabeth (Tiffany Spaulding) also joins the enhanced plot. She is the sister of the girl that Hyde tramples in the beginning of the play out of sheer spite. In a new twist, we learn that Elizabeth’s mother drank away the money that Hyde was forced to pay as restitution. It’s not clear why this compels Elizabeth to seek out Hyde, nor is it clear why she finds herself attracted to his brutish ways upon meeting him, but thus begins a strange love affair.
In another added scene, Dr. Carew (Thom Peters) and Dr. Jekyll (Gregory Guyton) are portrayed as colleagues at odds with one another, granting Mr. Hyde motivation for his later abuse of the doctor.
The actors all do a superb job. They master the nuances of their various characters, effectively changing accents and mannerisms to distinguish themselves in each new role. Moore, who spends the most time playing the part of Hyde, gives layers to the villain, showing his cruel side without making him a caricature of evil. Some of the yelling during Hyde’s transformations is a little over dramatized, but the monster is portrayed with fascinating intricacy as each actor projects a unique element of menace, enhancing his vile expressions and rage.
Thanks to some help from the lights and music, the way that Hyde – or sometimes multiple Hydes – loom over Jekyll in his most vulnerable moments is downright spooky. Guyton’s Jekyll is perched perfectly on the edge of madness. As circumstances move beyond his control, his poise and sanity rapidly deteriorate, and Guyton portrays the character with just the right amount of drama.
Spaulding, the sole female of the six-member cast, holds her own. She is strong in her own variety of roles, including the unnamed witness to a murder committed by Hyde. This character – a maid – speaks one of the most revealing lines in the play, remarking how the better part of her wanted to call for help, but the other part of her couldn’t help but watch instead. Thus, Hatcher’s adaptation reminds us that what we want and what is right is often at odds within us. Good doesn’t always prevail.
The set and the costumes changed minimally throughout – only accents here and there, such as a hat, monocle, or vest, distinguished each character and worked well to keep attention on the plot. The most dramatic set piece was the ominous red door, a portal on wheels that was moved to indicate a new setting. The fixture also worked to hide, reveal, or blend together scenes and, in essence, blur the lines between Jekyll and Hyde.
As Jekyll remarks, his goal when creating Hyde was to isolate the evil inside him in order to stamp it out. Unfortunately, the potion he invents to divide the two parts of his personality reveals an addicting tendency. Jekyll’s discovery that one dose will allow him to indulge in his base desires – aggression, violence, perversion – and that a second will return him to his better nature as a gentleman of society, causes immediate complications for the doctor. Soon the temptation is too great. The more he indulges, the less control he has over the transformation. He soon finds himself becoming Hyde unwillingly and needs a stronger antidote to change back.
Hatcher’s adaptation brings out new anxieties in both Jekyll and Hyde. Jekyll is desperate to find serenity. Hyde, on the other hand, longs for companionship. This is perhaps where the play is most successful, mirroring modern society’s vanities and consequent human isolation. Like Jekyll and Hyde, we yearn for serenity, companionship, and the fulfillment of desires we can’t always name. Some might choose a poison to transform and transcend their faults and inhibitions, others suffer in silence. From the gentlemen of society to the parlor maids portrayed on stage, this show evokes our sympathies, and audiences will realize that perhaps there’s a little bit of Hyde lurking within everyone, waiting to be freed.
Post Photo Courtesy of Tom Lauer at http://www.vagabondplayers.org/