Sunday, March 02, 2003

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Cleveland Play House)

'JEKYLL AND HYDE' disappoints at CPH

Robert Lewis Stevenson’s ‘THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE’ was published in 1886. Supposedly, Stevenson drafted the story in three days and completed its writing in six weeks. The story was supposedly developed in an unconscious state of sleep. As one Stevenson expert states, “ The dream served as a catalyst for every other aspect of the story to Stevenson. He had long been trying to write a story on this subject, to find a body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of man's double being, which must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking creature"

On the surface the story centers on the actions of a staid British doctor’s discovery of a formula created by his father. Curiosity drives Dr. Jekyll to take the potion which transforms him into the monster Mr. Hyde who knows no control for his emotions. Hyde attacks and kills at the slightest provocation. Soon, his potions begin to fail to work. When he can no longer obtain the chemicals to renew the potion Hyde kills himself, therefore letting both Jekyll and Hyde free.

This is, in reality, not a story about a madman or a serial killer. It is a story about the theory that inside each of us dwells a being that externally conforms to culture, yet internally lusts for the liberty to act out what our emotions drive us do. Thus Dr. Jekyll, brought up in a staid English society, in a world where appearance was more important than substance, had a strong drive not to be so pure, so emotionally controlled. When he could no longer control his impulses he acted on them. The father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, would theorize that "The two sides compare almost as conscious and unconscious.”

The stage adaptation, now being performed by the Cleveland Play House, comes with good credentials. It was written by David Edgar, who adapted the highly proclaimed ‘NICHOLAS NICKLEBY’ for the stage. The CPH production is starring Andrew May, one of Cleveland’s premiere actors. So, how could CPH go off course? Well, somehow it did.

David Kay Mickelsen’s costumes are period perfect. Rick Paulsen’s lighting attempts to lead us from scene to scene, mood to mood with appropriate lighting. It works most of the time. Robin Heath’s sound design and Larry Delinger’s music help set the right moods and transitions.

Michael Ganio’s scene design, on the other hand, creates chaos. Strange happenings occur. A piano is on stage during a street scene, door flats fall, actors have to dodge around set pieces and furniture, actors get hidden in the far back areas of the stage, a witness can’t be seen by much of the audience, though her voice is heard. There are just too many pieces-parts flying in and out, revolving around and over-stuffing the stage. If this was to help the audience understand the chaos in Jekyll’s head it didn’t. Rather than help, the set distracted.

Actors in this production are often hard to understand due to heavy and often inconsistent accents. Many characterizations are on-the-surface rather than creating clear people. Yes, this is not reality, but the audience must believe what they are seeing has reality or the shock effects, the meaning, gets lost. As one audience member said at intermission, “Will someone please tell me what is going on?”

Lee Moore as the butler was wonderful. His character development was clear and consistent. Anna Cody was on target as Jekyll’s sister as were young Kyle Blackburn Liz Duchez as her children. On the other hand, Ivy Vahanian, who plays Annie, a parlor maid, who has a pivotal role, was very difficult to understand and feigned emotions.

What was most disappointing was May’s performance. While his Jekyll was basically fine, his Hyde was often unintelligible. He was needlessly bent over to fit the script description of a small younger man. Thus, his voice didn’t project. The problem could have been eliminated changing of the unnecessary description. His cockney brogue often drowned out whole ideas. Excessive shouting made some of his lines unclear and, though it mirrored frustration, it eliminated understanding. The roles were not textured the way May he has proven he is capable of doing.

Capsule judgement: The overall effect was less than a stellar production. One must question some of the technical and acting decisions made by director Peter Hackett.