Giving In To Your Baser Instincts

One of the classics of horror fiction is the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. According to Wikipedia, stage adaptations began in Boston and London within a year of its publication and it has gone on to inspire dozens of stage and film adaptations of the novella, including over 123 film versions alone. This is all in way of introduction, for last night we went out to Santa Clarita to see one of those adaptations: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at REP East, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher.

We’re likely all familiar with the basics of the Jekyll and Hyde story, having learned about it on Bugs Bunny: Mild mannered doctor turns into murderous beast after drinking a potion he concocted, yada yada. Although that’s the heart of the concept, the execution of the story differs. Most adaptations differ from the original novella (summarized well on Wikipedia). Certainly the musical (which we saw in March 2008) was a far departure from the original. Hatcher’s adaption is also a departure from the novella. Although it starts similarly, with Richard Enfield telling of an encounter with Mr. Hyde when he beat a little girl and paid off the family, it makes some notable changes in the story. These include turning Sir Danvers Carew into a fellow doctor espousing theories Dr. Jekyll disagrees with, changing the timing and placement of the significant attacks, and introducing a love interest for Mr. Hyde, Elizabeth Jelkes. The most significant change, however, is in portrayal. Most adaptations have the same actor playing both Jekyll and Hyde. This adaptation has one actor playing Jekyll, and four different actors (who also play different roles in the production) all playing Edward Hyde at various points. This sounds like it might be confusing, but it actually isn’t because the actor’s characterization of Hyde is so good, and so drastically different from their other characters.

In this adaptation, the story is presented as a series of vignettes summarizing the story of Hyde chronologically from the first encounter with Enfield to the ultimate reavealing of the true identity of Edward Hyde to the characters of the story. Each vignette is introduced briefly by one of the characters providing context. The changes in the story deemphasize the scientific and experimental aspects of the story (and, according to my daughter, blur Stevenson’s original point which she believes to be a commentary on the dangers of science and medicine). The changes focus instead on whether man can control their baser instincts, or whether once the genie is let out of the bottle, it is gone forever. Hyde is the genie, and once let out, he threatens to overpower Jekyll, and in fact, is responsible for Jekyll’s ultimate fate. This is the key point: for it is a slow descent where one doesn’t realize they are trapped until it is too late. Perhaps this is a lesson to take to heart as we rush after our latest pleasure and decadent experience. I also found the character of Elizabeth Jelkes interesting: here is a seemingly well-mannered woman who is attracted not to the successful doctor Jekyll, but only to the beastly Hyde. Again, this is something we see far too often: women attracted to men who will ultimately destroy them, drawn by the fun, the adventure, and the excitement. As the story showed, such relationships rarely end well. Lastly, I’ll note that this play got me ultimately thinking about psychpharmacology: it would be intresting to track the development of pharmacology in theatre from the early work of Dr. Jekyll to its use in “Next to Normal”.

One of the things that made this production so good were the talented actors, under the capable directoral hand of Joe Miele, assisted by Tim Christianson. Most of the actors portrayed multiple character roles in addition to Edward Hyde; Miele was able to draw out significantly different characterizations that made these different people clear. Heading the cast was Joseph Baroneæ as Dr. Henry Jekyll. His portrayal of Jekyll was sufficiently mild-mannered so as to provide great contrast with the various portrayals of Hyde. These portrayals were provided by Ally Iseman (Hyde, also Poole (Jekyll’s housekeeper), Surgical Student, Police Doctor, Maid); Todd Larsenæ (Hyde, also Dr. H.K. Lanyon, Surgical Student); Skip Pipoæ (Hyde, also Sir Danvers Carew, Richard Enfield, O. F. Sanderson, Inspector); and Jarod Scott (Hyde, also Gabriel Utterson). Each of these portrayals was slightly different, yet all were convincingly menacing that you wouldn’t want to meet these Hydes in a dark alley. The distinction between their normal characters and Hyde were heavily in voice and demeanor, as well as the presence of a skull-topped walking stick. Playing Hyde’s love interest was Laura Eichhornæ (Elizabeth Jelkes). She was sufficiently mild-mannered that you wondered what attracted her to Hyde, which (as I noted above) appeared to be one of the questions raised in this version.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

The technical aspects of this production were at the REPs usual excellent level, having been done by REP’s resident team. The set, by Jeff Hyde, was mostly black with a movable red door focal point; as such, it placed the focus on the actors in this story. Lighting was by Tim Christianson, and did a wonderful job of establishing the mood. The sound by Steven Burkholder was less amplification (you don’t need mics at the REP) but sound effects and timing—all of which were excellent. Credits were not provided for the costumes, but they were generally simple black cloaks and dress clothes of the era. Video backgrounds were by Mikee Schwinn. Johnny Schwinn served as Stage Manager.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde” continues at REP East until October 16. Tickets are available through the REP Online Box Office, or by calling (661) 288-0000. You can often get ticket deals by friending REP East on Facebook.

The REP has announced their 2011 season (their 7th), which consists of: “Moonlight and Magnolias”, “The Diary of Anne Frank”, “Caberet”, “Jewtopia”, “Doubt”, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor”, and “The Graduate”. Although some of these have been (or are being done) locally recently (“Jewtopia” is currently at the Greenway Court Theatre in West Hollywood, and “Moonlight and Magnolias” is at The Colony Theatre from February 2 to March 6, 2011), it will be interesting to see the REP take on these shows. The specific dates for each production haven’t yet been released to the public. Subscriptions are available starting at $120.

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. Next up on the theatre calendar is FDR” at the Pasadena Playhouse on October 24. Yes, I said The Pasadena Playhouse, and in what is quite a surprise to us (as we donated the remainder of our subscriptions during the bankruptcy period), we are getting tickets to the remaining 2010 productions! I want to commend the Playhouse for this gesture—for us, at least, it is doing a remarkable job of rebuilding good will.

Continuing with the upcoming theatre list: October concludes with Happy Days: The Musical” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 30. I’ll also note that October 23 will be a Family Gaming Night at Temple Ahavat Shalom—if you’re a board gamer in the area, come one out… we start at 4:30pm). November will see “Bell, Book, and Candle” at The Colony Theatre on November 13; Randy Newman’s Harps and Angels” at the Mark Taper Forum (November 10–December 22, Hottix on sale October 19, potential date November 21); and Amadeus” at REP East (ticketed for November 27). December will bring Uptown, Downtown” starring Leslie Uggams at the Pasadena Playhouse on December 11, and Next to Normal” at the Ahmanson (November 23–January 2; Hottix on November 2; planned date December 18 or 19). It should also take Erin to West Side Story” at the Pantages Theatre, which is pending ticketing (sigh).

Looking briefly into 2011: January will bring Tom Paxton at McCabes on my birthday, January 21 (pending ticketing), and perhaps the first REP show of the season. February will bring The Marvellous Wonderettes” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on February 12; Rock of Ages” at the Pantages on February 19 or 20 (pending ticketing), and Moonlight and Magnolias at the Colony Theatre on February 26. Of course, I learn of interesting shows all the time, so expect additions to this schedule.

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review, and that I purchase my own tickets to the shows. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.