Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Jonathan Manchester
Reviewed by Phil Fitzpatrick
Few stories elicit as much spine-tingling suspense and pure fear as that of “The Double.” Call it what you will—doppelganger, dark side, shadow side, evil twin—rare is the story of it that does not thrill or terrify, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the archetype.
Penned as a novella in 1886 by Robert Louis Stevenson, it took only a year for Thomas Russell Sullivan to craft a stage version, which premiered in Boston in 1887. A 2008 adaptation, written by Jeffrey Hatcher, is now at The Underground, directed by Jonathan Manchester.
The problem that writers like Stevenson, Sullivan, and Hatcher address is the dual nature of the self. We are capable of both bounteous altruism and selfish depravity. For a stage director, however, the problem is much simpler—how to make two completely different characters out of only one actor. While costuming, makeup, and special effects help, it is the actor’s ability to morph before our eyes that determines how well the play works.
The Underground’s production takes a different approach, using several actors. Out of six in the cast, four play Edward Hyde at one point or another. Luke Moravec and Michael Pederson are well known to Duluth theatergoers, and we get their best. Michael Kraklio and K.T. Magnolia may be less familiar, but no less talented. Magnolia is particularly convincing as the manservant, Poole. Kraklio plays Gabriel Utterson, the narrator of the story.
Photo courtesy of Crimson Clear Productions
Elizabeth (Kitara Peterson) comforts
a dying Dr. Jekyll (Rob Larson)
in The Underground’s production
of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
To make the main character more sympathetic, the playwright introduced a romantic interest to Stevenson’s original plot—Elizabeth, here portrayed by Kitara Peterson, who brings an innocent vulnerability to the role. A few bodies and a harrowing rehash of one of Hyde’s more gruesome “projects” have also been added.
Dr. Henry Jekyll (Rob Larson) is a man tortured by his curiosity about human nature. Cultivated, intellectual, and convivial on the one hand, he is consumed by the effects of his experiments with mind-altering “powders and tinctures.” Larson is the perfect Jekyll: Handsome, eloquent, completely comfortable onstage—and distinctly uncomfortable when Jekyll’s alter-ego takes over.
Thanks to UMD theater instructor Kendra Carlson, the British accents are spot-on. Costumer Heather Olson has an eye for 19th-century English fashion. Patrick Mulcahy’s lighting evokes the macabre elements of the story.
Finally, there is The Door. The single most pervasive—and, for the cast, certainly the most challenging—object onstage was built on four rollers by Tom Egan and Ashley Wereley. The Door is quite athletic, changing location to create multiple London addresses. It’s a brilliant conceit, eliminating the need for extensive scenery and time-consuming set changes.
In the confines of The Underground, it’s easy to feel trapped, just as Jekyll is trapped and ultimately vanquished by his own nature. Whispers, questions, and glares create a penetrating, claustrophobic atmosphere.
English teachers will relish the degree to which Manchester’s direction achieves dramatic irony—the audience knows what the characters do not—and theater instructors will appreciate the use of not only floor space and elevation, but angle, gesture, and contortion.
Though the story might be minimalist, it goes for maximum effect, and the cast is perfectly suited to rendering the script’s pathos, dynamism, and philosophical underpinnings about the “two streams” of human nature.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde runs November 17-19 at 7:30 p.m. at The Underground, 506 West Michigan Street in Duluth. Tickets are $18 for students/$20 for adults.