The Evil In Us All

In a new adaptation of R.L. Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Jeffrey Hatcher, the darker self is humanized and harder to deny

Lynsey Thurgar in Jekyll and Hyde | Photo: International Theatre

Everyone has a little evil in them. In the current production Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde playing at the International Theatre through Mar. 27, we see more than a little. Based on Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, this version breaks out of its Victorian frame to mythic proportions: The dormant evil within the respectable Dr. Jekyll explodes into shards of uncontrolled desire and pain, and as Mr. Hyde, his humanity unravels in primal rage.

Eyes adjust to the darkness engulfing the tiny theatre. Suddenly, an ear-piercing scream punctuates the house, extinguishing the murmurs of the skinny-jeaned young audience. A scarlet door appears like a tongue of flame in the middle of the stage—the hellish entrance to Hyde’s living quarters. Suddenly, faces illuminated by the white spotlight leap out of the darkness, portraying each member of this small repertory company, one at a time. Hypnotically, they recall the horrible beating of a young girl. The loathsome bully?  One Mr. Hyde. In minutes, director Jack Babb captured the audience; with the dual onslaughts of bloodcurdling bellows and bright lights, intensity assaults both ears and eyes, claiming attention.

The dead of night then covers the brutal murder and mutilation of a prostitute. Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jack Babb), a colleague Sir Danvers Carew (Kevin Brock), and a medical student (Laura Mitchell) are examining the body, the brain exposed from massive trauma to the head.

Then the scene switches abruptly to Jekyll’s comfortable living room, as Carew and a lawyer, John Utterton (Brian Hatfield), wonder what kind of person could do such things. The human being has two streams of consciousness, Jekyll suggests, one acquiescing to the accepted values of society, the other uninhibited, releasing the desires and rages of a primitive man. Unbeknownst to his friends, Jekyll has been working on a concoction that could separate those two streams, in hopes of eliminating man’s unwanted natural urges. He is also trying it on himself: The result is a metamorphosis into Hyde, the embodiment of his darkest self.

In Babb’s production, both states of mind are also portrayed as human, each like us, more immediate and more possible, and all the more disturbing. It only takes a potion. Today we know this all too well; anyone can already get their hands on illegal drugs that contort the personality. Take away the physical transformation and leave the mental one, and “Mr. Hyde” is no different from a drug with terrible side effects.

This transformation is brilliantly staged, with members of the small cast flashing in and out as Hyde in the unfolding of the story. Hyde at his most brutal and lurid is Barry Currid, in a mane of shaggy hair. Elsewhere, Hyde is Laura Mitchell, heavy limbed and gruff, dragging through the scene as if in wet sand.

Creating Hyde is the central challenge in the telling of this story. Earlier adaptations, like John Robertson’s 1920’s silent film starring John Barrymore, show Dr. Jekyll going through a physical transformation into a savage: a hideous monster with bulbous eyes and a misshapen head who goes on a rampage, blindly murdering the locals. By rotating the character through several actors, we discover instead a more human Hyde, who carries within him so many aspects, of selves we recognize as our own. We are all potential victims of our own repressed natures.

In the film version, the character of Sir Danvers Carew is more a provocateur who goads Jekyll to “live a little,” rather than the outright nemesis of this production. The addition here of the headstrong and attractive shop girl, Elizabeth (Lynsey Thurgar) is an even bigger change, leading to a romance with Mr. Hyde who, at least temporarily, is humanized by love.

Dr. Jekyll desires her too, but as an honorable, upper class gentleman; he cannot allow himself to ever have Elizabeth in his “real” persona, without the permission of life as Hyde. By constantly denying himself sexual pleasure of any kind, Jekyll is a man of his time. The novella was first published in 1886, when the power of Victorian proprieties was at its height. This production like the 1920’s film, suggests that this deprivation triggered Jekyll’s lust to experiment with man’s primal urges.

However, the romance between the Hyde and Elizabeth marks the only time a glimmer of Jekyll manages to soften Hyde’s loathsome, thorny shell. Indeed, Elizabeth is the only person Hyde doesn’t physically injure. He does, however, break her heart.

Barry Currid’s Hyde at his most brutal was overwhelming, devolving into fits of raw fury. As Jekyll’s logic closes in around him, Hyde becomes cornered, and Currid summons the monster within Jekyll and also himself. He erupts, spewing the hateful words of a desperate and dangerous man, at which point, several Austrian girls in front start giggling. Still, it was impossible to turn away, and we were staring straight into the face of the possessed.

As he ends his fiery monologue, his rage too subsides, and his eyes turn away from the audience accidentally meeting with ours. Like a deer in headlights, one of us felt his eyes widen and suddenly freeze before quickly looking away; he was shaking. As Hyde strode out through the audience in a dramatic exit, we shifted in our chairs, involuntarily, moving closer to the people next to us.

In scenes when Hyde’s dormant side is peeled away to expose his frightening one, every word is whispered in echo by one of the four cast members standing in the shadows, hardly seen from out of the darkness, reverberating, unearthly and frightening. No other sound effects are used, or needed. Red backlights mixed with white set the monster off in relief, increasing the tension, as we watch the shadow of Hyde’s hand rise, the shadow of the weapon stretches out as it is raised above the victim.

The Austrian Mädels continued fooling around, uninterested in this powerful drama of the unconscious, much to their teacher’s visible disappointment. The tip of his ballpoint pen struck paper, quickly scribbling down what could only have been the names of those with lives too light for evil to seem real.

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