Jeffrey Hatcher’s inventive 2008 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” gives us a chance to focus on the psychological underpinnings of the well-known story. Director Peter Vann and his cohorts give us the freedom to enjoy the macabre proceedings with their craftsmanship.
Stevenson’s tale of horror, lust, love and alter-ego has spawned a multitude of theater, film, television and radio adaptations. What sets this one apart from many is its return to some of the characters and subplots from the novella – with intriguing tweaks by Hatcher including a good dose of dark humor – that have often been dropped by adaptors and a theatrical conceit (already well publicized in productions around the country) where four actors portray aspects of the beast-unchained Edward Hyde.
In this show the four-part Hyde is played by Chris Bosen, Matthew Carlton, David Compton and Jamie Farmer. They along with Samuel Whited’s Dr. Henry Jekyll form a truly entire being – it becomes clear as the plot progresses that, to borrow from another character, no man is completely good or bad. And with the foursome doubling in other roles, there’s a real question about what is reality and what is part of the doctor’s increasingly fevered mind that’s tantalizing.
Yes, there is romance in this version, but not like, say, the Jekyll-and-virginal-fiancée romance provided in the classic 1931 film adaptation with Academy Award winner Fredric March. Here we have a street-wise woman named Elizabeth Jelkes (Amanda Card-McCoy) truly in love with, and protective of, Hyde.
Whited digs deep for his well-meaning but fatally-flawed Jekyll – we not only see but feel his character’s anguish as his experiment goes horribly wrong. His character actor’s command of moment is impeccable.
Bosen, Carlton, Compton and Farmer do a good job transitioning between their Hydes and their other characters. The veteran foursome makes the difficult look easy, which is typically the result of a great deal of hard work before the audience sees the result.
Card-McCoy makes loving a monster believable. It’s true that Hatcher’s take on Hyde gives us more room to feel for him than some other versions of the Stevenson story, but it’s nevertheless a tall order that Card-McCoy fills with her focused commitment to the compassion-laced Jelkes.
Gary C. Hoff’s portals-of-the-mind set is a mood-framing gem. One understands completely what “behind the red door” means to this story as one sees the multitude of doors in that color stacked in two rows upstage as well as hung over the Johnson’s floor. An interesting tidbit: hot glue was molded to make the doorknobs. Whatever will the gifted Hoff think of next?
Vann keeps the action whirling onstage in, around, through and behind those doors. He’s had many fine appearances as an actor, but with such directorial stints as this show and the recent production of Caroline, Or Change at Street Theatre Company he’s proving to be just as adapt at helming a production as he is acting in one.
Trish Clark’s costumes – down to appropriate footwear – display the Victorian London period of the play while Michael Barnett’s striking lights and Paul Carrol Binkley’s atmospheric sound enhance the terror. A final shout-out goes to ensemble members Ben Hutto and Harley Walker, who keep the flow of action going in more ways than one.
Yes, this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is quite well-crafted and very enjoyable. As we near the time of ghosts, goblins and ghouls – or at least those posing as such on Oct. 31 – this entertaining treat is also welcome in a timely way.
NEW INGRAM FELLOW: Producing Artistic Director René D. Copeland announced prior to Saturday’s performance that Theresa Rebeck will be the 2012-13 Ingram New Works Fellow. Rebeck, the series creator of NBC-TV’s “Smash,” is a highly acclaimed playwright, television writer and novelist. Among her well-regarded works for the theater are such plays as Pulitzer Prize-finalist Omnium Gatherum, The Bells, The Scene, The Understudy and Seminar.
The numerous recognitions for her work include the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, the Peabody Award and the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award. Rebeck is a board member of The Dramatists Guild and the Lark Play Development Center in New York City and has taught at Brandeis University and Columbia University. She joins an august list of Ingram New Works Fellows that includes past recipients David Auburn, John Patrick Shanley and Steven Dietz.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde continues through Nov. 3 in Johnson Theatre at Tennessee Performing Arts Center (505 Deaderick St.). Shows are at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, as well as 2:30 p.m. Oct. 20, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3. Tickets (starting at $42.50; student admission begins at $11.50 with some restrictions) or more information is available by calling (615) 782-4040 or at www.tennesseerep.org.
*Photos by Shane Burkeen and Britanie Knapp courtesy Tennessee Repertory Theatre.