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Jekyll and Hyde effective on multiple levels
Jekyll and Hyde effective on multiple levels
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ACT Theatre
Through May 10


We all know that we're made up of many different personalities, and have many voices inside giving multiple pieces of advice to follow. Modern psychiatry considers the "subconscious mind" completely accepted. Back when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, psychiatry had not even coined the term "subconscious" yet. Stevenson wrote in a period of Victorian repression, where sexuality was to be suppressed and was thought of as a byproduct of following the devil. Yet, we can agree that the duality he wrote about is descriptive of the conflicts within us, in following what we want as opposed to need, or in helping as opposed to hurting others.

Jeffrey Hatcher's theatrical adaptation, now playing at ACT Theatre, contains more modern thought within it. The play is still set in 1883 Scotland, but emphasizes the science fiction aspect of Stevenson's novel. Dr. Jekyll is self-inducing the (dangerous) Hyde character to come out of himself with chemicals. Hatcher calls for several actors at once to play Hyde, emphasizing that there are more sides even to evil than two. While Bradford Farwell plays only Dr. Jekyll, David Anthony Lewis plays the "main" Hyde, and David Pichette, Deborah Fialkow and Brandon Whitehead play "choral" Hydes, along with other characters. The other cast member, Sylvie Davidson, plays only Elizabeth Jelkes, a young woman who falls in love with Hyde, though it's hard to understand what she sees in him.

The multitudes of Hydes are very effective. Sometimes they are in sync in their viewpoints, and sometimes at odds with each other. That was so effective that Hatcher could have done even more with them. That device kept the play more interesting than just boiling the personalities down to a "good" one and an "evil" one.

A difficulty to surmount was the choice to do it in the theater-in-the-round at ACT, which creates challenges so that parts of the audience don't feel like they're behind all the action. Director R. Hamilton Wright, a veteran of that theater, created a sense of intimacy that drew the audience in and never made it feel awkward ("let's face this way for this speech, just because this part of the audience has seen my back too long"). However, the set then was limited almost entirely to what the cast could push on and push off quickly. One laboratory set up rises from the middle of the floor in an eerie effect, and is beautiful in displaying almost the only color in the production, but it is still an awkward way to manage various settings. Those who sat in the first rows got mouthfuls of white smoke as it steamed up from the stage to create the British climate. One deft design of the set, the suspension of various red wood doors - none of which are actually used - gave psychological construct to opening the doors of the psyche. The dissecting theater and the morgue are suitable grisly. Lighting is crucial in helping change the set.

Overall, it's an evocative production, brisk and engrossing, producing some rumination on the nature of an individual human and whether we have very much control over our inner desires. For more information, go to www.acttheatre.org or call 206-292-7676.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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