Saturday, October 6, 2012

Theater Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Philip Doyle

My only comfort this time of year, before the brilliant fall colors decay into the dead gray and beige pallor of winter, is Halloween.  There are few things better than to let go and surrender into the haunted atmosphere of ghosts, ghouls, and stories of the macabre.
So how do you get your goblin on?  You could track down one of the local haunted houses.  That might be good.  But for those of you who have grown weary of standing in the cold for an hour and handing over a Jackson to attend a fifteen-minute, hit-and-miss creep show, here's better option - check out Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the John Hand Theatre.  Immerse yourself into this psycho (slash) bad-boy love story that is cleverly presented with a dash of Victorian charm.

Originally published in 1886, the “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was written by Robert Louis Stevenson.   The story is often labeled a kind of allegory; a morality tale of what happens when the devil wins over the better angels of our nature.  It has been adapted numerous times, usually as kind of monster story about a doctor with a split personality.

The Firehouse Theatre Company's presentation of  “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” embraces the original novella.  Adapted by Jeffery Hatcher, this is a dark exploration of the human psyche.

Trying to discover the aspects of consciousness that cannot be found by physical empirical dissection, Jekyll is driven to madness by his use of potions and tinctures.  He is a protagonist who also serves as the antagonist, from man into monster.  It is a classic horror story that is being served up at the perfect time of the year.

The utterly charming Nils Swanson portrays Dr. Henry Jekyll.  He is a suave and smart actor.  Swanson is able to convey the tenuous balance of the brilliant doctor’s quest for knowledge, and collapse into madness and addiction.  This is a performance that grabbed my attention, and created a sense of time and place that made the real world disappear.   

This time around, one actor plays the good doctor, and four actors play Mr. Edward Hyde.  This adds many dynamic possibilities that director Brian J. Brooks weaves on stage.  The various incarnations of Mr. Hyde range from tortured, seductive, and just plain sadistic.  

The actors playing Mr. Hyde run the gamut of the performance scale, from quietly confident, to borderline manic.  These actors also play other supporting characters in the story.  It’s fun to watch an actor switch from one physical stature to the next, from proper English dialect to a broken Scottish brogue. 

One example to mention is Clint Heyn, who throws down a diverse array of characters.  He can play a snippy and comical professor dissecting a corpes, and then play a version of Hyde that is downright creepy.  As Hyde, his offer to Dr. Jekyll to go out on a “ramble” was delectable. 

Kristen Mair has an interesting challenge playing Elizabeth Jelkes, who falls in love with Edward Hyde.  Why would anyone fall in love with such a fiend?  Mair proves to be quite capable at providing the answer to this question.

All of the actors seem to enjoy putting order into Dr. Jekyll’s personality disorder.  They are supported in their effort by Sarah Coughlin’s original music, which seems to sneak its way into a scene, enhancing the moment without being intrusive.  I applaud director Brian J. Brooks, who artfully put all of the pieces together. 

If you’re looking for something to put you into the Halloween mood, this should do the trick!

Firehouse Theatre Company presents Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the John Hand Theatre, October 5th –November 3rd.