Monday, October 28, 2013

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—theatrevertigo at the Shoe box Theatre—SE Portland

Multiple Me’s
This classic horror tale by Robert Louis Stevenson is adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Hatcher.  It is directed by Bobby Bermea and will be playing through November 23rd.  For further information go to their site at www.theatrevertigo.org or call 503-306-0870.

This is one of the all-time, great, spooky stories and has been filmed many times.  The earlier versions are with John Barrymore, Fredrick March, and Spencer Tracy.  Jack Palance played him in a very successful TV presentation and there is, of course, the stage musical version with David Hasslehoff.  There is even two versions with Mr. Hyde as a handsome man, a B film with Paul Mantee, and Jerry Lewis’s The Nutty Professor (he won the well-deserved, French Academy Award for this).

The story concerns a well-respected medical man, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Mario Calcagno), during the late 1800’s, who believes that he can rid the evil side of a person from the good, by taking a potion he has devised.  He has his detractors, of course, represented by Dr. Carew (Tyler Ryan) who sees man as just a piece of meat in the end, on a gurney.

But Jekyll does have his supporters, via his friend, Utterson (Kerry Ryan), a lawyer, Enfield (R. David Wyllie) and a colleague, Dr. Lanyon (Brooke Calcagno).  But, although his experiment is somewhat successful, his secret self, Mr. Hyde (Heath Koerschgen), instead of being subdued, has began to dominate Jekyll’s personality.  Including, unfortunately, some rather messy murders, that the free-wielding Hyde has committed, including his rival, Dr. Carew, bringing the experiment to the attention on Scotland Yard and an Inspector (Tom Mounsey).

The only thing that seems to tame the beast, is love, in the form of Elizabeth (Karen Wennstrom).  Now Hyde has an ever greater desire to survive.  But, this only enrages the Jekyll-self and, in a twist, he becomes the aggressor, killing one of his dearest friends, so that the truth doesn’t become known, that he, himself, is actually Hyde.  Of course, only a tragic end can ensue and a monster is destroyed…in him, at least, but what of us?!

This is not an easy story to bring to the stage, for the obvious reason that both Jekyll and Hyde inhabit the same body and so some physical transformation should take place.  But, in this adaptation, Hyde is not only a separate role but is played by more than one actor, a clever idea.  Postulating, I believe, that man is not just two beings within but that there are multiple facets to a persona.  And, as theatrevertigo believes in cross-gender casting, female representatives as well.

Also, since Jekyll sees a human in terms of black and white, so the costuming (McKenna Twedt) of the play reflects that.  And the choice of presenting this tale in a small, intimate space is ideal, an in-your-face depiction of a tormented soul.  As Ms. Liptak, the House Manager, pointed out, “…it’s like you’re in a haunted house with scary things all around you.”  Very true.  A great Halloween treat…or trick.

Of course, we have our own version of this experiment, too, it’s call lobotomy.  The most famous example was JFK’s mentally-challenged sister, Rose, who, after it was performed, was little more that a walking vegetable.  Or, the actress, Francis Farmer, an eccentric performer, who was only a pale imitation of her former self after the operation.  Without passion we may be docile, tamed, but our essence seems to be missing as well.  We are who we are because of our complicated selves, not in spite of it.

Mario, as Jekyll, does an admirable job.  This is a complex role and he handles the transitions smoothly.  The unique characteristic he brings to the role is the fact that we, in the end, see the monster in Jekyll himself and not just Hyde.  Heath as the main embodiment of Hyde also give us a multi-layer character, not just a killer but an intense passion that can turn to love with the right person, something that Jekyll seems incapable of comprehending.  A role well-realized by this actor.

Most of the other actors play multiple roles giving good accounts of themselves.  Brooke, as always, is effective as the Scottish friend of Jekyll’s, Lanyon, trying to understand this complicated man.  Kerry, as his other friend, Utterson, gives us an intense performance.  And R. David does nicely as Enfield and the contrasting role of the private eye, Sanderson.  And Karen, as Hyde’s love, gives depth to this conflicted person.

Bermea, the Director, has done a remarkable job of playing such a complicated production with multiple locations (Scenic Designer, Megan Wilkerson) in such a small space and a cast of eight performing about twice as many roles.  But it works very well, as we never get confused as to where they are or who is who.  As to purpose, the director notes, “And now…let’s have some murder, some mayhem and no goddamn apologies!”

I recommend this show but, because of the intensity, it probably would not be for young children.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.