Looking deep inside

Jekyll finds the Hyde in all of us
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  October 21, 2009


DARK AND UNNERVING Mr. Hyde has many faces in the Public Theatre’s version.

"None of us," says Mr. Utterson, recalling the small group peering into Edward Hyde's dark flat, "wished to go inside." Neither, you might say, does Dr. Henry Jekyll (Peter Crosby). Although he has (with the help of some creative psychotropics) opened the door to his psyche, he has effectively shipped all its unsavory contents, unexamined, into a room across town. Rather than live amidst all that prurience and impulse, that is, he has isolated, repressed, and shunted it into the hyperbolic walking id of Edward Hyde, whom he expects he won't have to see socially. What could possibly go wrong?

After myriad stage adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella, it's not the reveal of the two men's twain that keeps us returning to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When the story still thrills and chills us, it does so not because of what we don't know but what we know maybe a little too well: That some of the most terrifying characters of our acquaintance are, often, certain versions of ourselves. That is, one way to measure the success of the show is in proportion to how much it dares to make us identify with the classic bifurcated man. As for the Public Theatre's all-Equity production in Lewiston (directed by Janet Mitchko), as well as being stylishly produced, tautly paced, and sharply acted, it provides many shivery moments when being on the inside of Jekyll's inter-psychic feud seems hair-raisingly plausible.

The show teases our identification with Jekyll, in part, by way of four ensemble actors who move between secondary characters and the role of Hyde himself. That means that we see Hyde now with the face of Jekyll's lawyer friend Utterson (Ken Glickfeld), then with that of Lanyon, a friend from med school (Peter Simon Hilton); one minute as Jekyll's blustery rival Carew (James Sears), the next as his housekeeper Poole (Sheila Stasack). The effect encloses us in a dream-like realm defined in terms of Jekyll's own references and careening projections -- like we're inside the fun-house-mirrored space of his own mind. Especially unnerving is when all four appear at once, each in Hyde's signature dashing top hat and cape, and repeat the same words in a vertiginous round.

And man, does that Hyde -- particularly Hilton's tall, rakish, growly one -- have charisma, an unadulterated sex appeal that the earnest intellectual teetotaler Jekyll can only dream of. Particularly seductive are his scenes with lovely Elizabeth (Sandra Blaney, with a fine balance no-nonsense wit and utter enthrallment), and the lurching, dynamic sadism that acts on her like the life force itself. When Crosby's Jekyll looks upon Elizabeth, and sees what Hyde has stirred in her, his despondent inadequacy is as thick as the London fog.

That fog seeps through the Public Theatre's classically spooky set (designed by Jennifer B. Madigan) via smoke machine, and the handsome period costuming (by Kate Law) includes a decadence of hats and capes. The show's ethos gets a touch of steampunk in the synthesized Psycho-esque strings and Bart Garvey's Expressionist lighting design. Characters stroll and stalk through London nights of gnarled trees and narcos-green. Jekyll's basement laboratory is suffused in black light that makes his chemicals glow weirdly in their beakers. The door to Hyde's flat glows a hot, concentrated red.

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