Robert Louis Stevensonís novella Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an acute psychological portrait of the nature of good and evil residing in the human psyche, an elegantly written and compact late-19th-century thriller that has proved irresistible through countless adaptations for stage and screen use. Usually, the powers-that-be see fit to add characters, situations, and romantic icing where none ever existed, and Jules Tasca proved no exception with his workmanlike adaptation recently performed by The Curan Repertory Company.
If Tascaís adaptation is less melodramatically florid than some, it is also less clinically sterile than others. But, especially as it was performed in Ken Terrellís somnambulistic production, it also is devoid of the extreme highs and lows that would make it a truly exciting, truly theatrical thriller. Tasca follows the tried and true convention of adding two love interests for the protagonist(s) -- good girl/bad girl (in this case they are feuding sisters) -- but he has also added such topical themes as the sexual molestation of young children by a clergyman and the repressed homosexuality of a minor character. This topicality seems forced, facile, and grafted onto the work in order to pander to current headlines without any true regard for the original source material. If there is any homosexuality to be mined from the Stevenson work, it might lie in the fact that there are absolutely no female characters of note in the story at all, certainly no romantic ones at any rate. How intriguing that could be -- an all-male production that actually dramatizes the novella, rather than adapts adaptations of adaptations?
Having two actors of distinctly different physicality play Jekyll and Hyde may or may not have been a good idea -- given the relentlessly hokey staging of the recent musical with one actor playing both roles it might seem warranted to try, at least -- but this production didnít make a strong case for dual performers either. It is an idea that would work extremely well in film, where the special-effects department could do wonderful things with morphs, but Terrell could not pull it off clearly or successfully in this staging. Although Danny Stessen was manically over the top as the evil Hyde, Chris Cordone was so "under the bottom" as Jekyll he barely registered at all, except as a tall, good-looking leading-man type, and neither seemed to have a comfortable on-stage presence; neither did they ever meld into the two sides of one personality. The rest of the cast turned in well-polished, even elegant performances, but the true standout of the evening was Derek Ahonen as Jekyllís devoted, repressed servant Poole. His performance was so centered, so attuned to his body and character that with even the tiniest off-hand gesture he commanded awed attention.
The tiny space of the Beckman Theatre was used well: somehow the height of the room, the limited, old-fashioned lighting equipment. and especially the somewhat oppressive wall of brick lend themselves to a particularly Victorian atmosphere -- what fun it would be to see the non-musical Sweeney Todd staged here -- and despite the limitations of the theatre, the environment was actually the strongest asset of the production. No one was credited with the design of the show, although the womenís plain period dresses were "designed" by Veronica Sheaffer.
(Also featuring Abby Cooper, Nancy Guzman, Peter Portillo, Michael Soriano, and Susan Woods)
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Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita