Marvelously Thrilling “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at Carpenter Square
One of Robert Louis Stevenson’s most popular novellas “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was first published in 1883. The story concerns an idealistic doctor, Henry Jekyll, who becomes fascinated with the idea of conquering the evil in man. He experiments upon himself, developing a formula that will isolate his own evil into a persona distinct from himself. This creates two personalities within one body, one evil and one good. Rather like a drug-induced multiple personality disorder. He calls his alter Mr. Hyde, and as Hyde he roams the streets of London in dastardly pursuits. Of course the two personalities vie for dominance and Hyde’s disdain for Dr. Jekyll, as well as his cruel nature causes much distress. Fortunately Hyde’s visage is also distinct, but he must be careful to hide Edward Hyde’s hide.
Renowned playwright Jeffrey Hatcher premiered his adaptation in 2008 to delighted audiences. The treatment of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is unusual as Hatcher created five different aspects of Hyde; each actor presenting a differing mood or personality. Additionally each of them handles numerous other small roles as an ensemble. In total there are seven cast members brilliantly directed by Rhonda Clark. Dr. Henry Jekyll is played superbly by Rick Lockett. Rob May is the gentlemanly Hyde, Al Bostick is the sadistic Hyde, David Burkhart is the volatile Hyde, Kaylan Ferrell is the catty Hyde and Ford Filson is the street rat Hyde. J. Christine Lanning is exceptional as Elizabeth Jelkes. All seven actors are splendid performers, many playing several parts; a truly masterful ensemble.
The various Hyde aspects have their own personality traits, and speak with differing dialects among them are Cockney, Classic British and Scottish. In addition to the various accents from the Hyde group are the varied accents of the other characters. There are approximately twenty individuals played by the seven actors and they all have specific quirks, accents and attitudes. Jeffrey’s composition is masterful but prone to confusion. It is imperative to keep all these characters straight and it can be difficult. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” must be handled with perfect clarity and timing to enable the audience to follow the action. This requires a clear thinking director who is creative as well as incisive. Rhonda Clark meets the criteria phenomenally well. Her superb choices in casting coupled with her remarkable simplicity in movement allow the actors to provide excellent characterizations. The play is easy to follow and understand. The audience is able to concentrate on the mystery without uncertainty in identity. Timing in speech and movement is crucial; the cast and crew have timed everything precisely and exactly. As a result of Clark’s inspired direction “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is superbly done.
The ensemble cast is smooth and fast paced and the numerous accents are easily understood and defined. The entire cast delivers with enunciation as well as emotion, sincerity and style. Rick Lockett creates the morally upright Dr. Henry Jekyll with attention and detail; bringing us along with him as he descends into disaster and desperation. As a result Lockett brings us one of the best performances of the season in his interpretation of Dr. Jekyll.
Hatcher’s adaptation of Stevenson’s popular novella is faithful to the original intent. In bringing the story to the stage Hatcher enhances the presence of Elizabeth Jelkes as an essential force in the story. Stevenson would be pleased with the script and recognizing modern attitudes regarding women, Hatcher increases the relevancy of the tale for today’s audiences on several levels. J. Christine Lanning plays Elizabeth Jelkes with such natural charm and grace, embracing the mores of the period and developing a smart and saucy Elizabeth, bright and beguiling. With Lanning’s interpretation, we can see the essential bonding of Jekyll and Jelkes as the story circles around them, even though they meet only once. It is Hyde that she loves. He is evil, but good girls often love a bad boy. He is dashing and debonair yet brutish and menacing giving her the thrill of danger. It is easy to see how she could fall for this aspect of Hyde. Lanning gives her a slightly sophisticated innocence full of sensuality and adventure.
David Burkhart gives his Hyde the greatest brutality. A man who lusts with the intensity of an ape, struts with the volatility of a bull, yet Elizabeth sees a spark of the poet in his character, convincing her that he is worthy of love. Burkhart plays this Hyde with consummate skill and sensitivity. He lures Elizabeth to him, without seeming to be the least alluring. Further, the magnetism that lurks between the chambermaid and the dangerous scoundrel is palpable. Burkhart also interprets the upright and dedicated Dr. Lanning, moving effortlessly into the Victorian gentleman.
Rob May reveals a Hyde that is more courteous and slick, He is the gentleman of the group and he keeps his devilish instinct under the coat of a Victorian dandy. Intelligent and stylish, he is James Bond under a Victorian veneer. May has a slightly supercilious grin over a graceful swagger that entices the audience into believing he may be a reasonable man. He is not. May also plays five other characters convincingly and distinctly, moving effortlessly from one to another. Among the five characters he reveals onstage is Sir Danvers Carew, a hidebound and officious administrator supervising Dr. Jekyll. This character is also villainous, but the difference between the evil Hyde and the stupidly evil Carew is quite apparent, even when they are on stage together. This statement is not an error—they are onstage together and May manages to convince us they are both present easily and smoothly.
Albert Bostick is a more sadistic Hyde, he speaks with conviction, and it is apparent that his persona is completely narcissistic. He is more than a villain; he has no soul and no heart. Bostick’s presence is certainly ominous and disheartening. His aspect is almost a blend of May and Burkhart, yet he has a distinct aura of salacious sadism that is terrifying. He also plays Gabriel Utterson, a typical Victorian gentleman with a quite logical façade, always able to take the sensible course of action. The two characters are almost completely opposite; self-confidence being the only quality both possess.
Kaylan Ferrell plays the scalawag Hyde with a flair for the dramatic. Ferrell creates a man very realistically; she also gives him a feminine touch that is slightly delicious. Her Hyde is catty and devastatingly so with a touch of humor. Ferrell also plays several other characters from a woman of low repute to an innocent maid, to a dedicated student, a loyal servant. Ferrell’s versatility is astounding and her talent is quite amazing.
Ford Filson is quite serious with his Hyde; he has no sense of humor, no honor, and no interest. He is a street rat, brashly course and he delivers his brutality with immovable detachment. Filson also plays a number of other characters from a no-nonsense medical examiner to a little girl being chased by another Hyde. He is also quite versatile with a great future in theatre.
The set is wonderful, using a single door that can be moved for the cast to transition from one scene to another. In contrast to the complications inherit within the play itself; the set is minimal yet striking inspiring the audience to easily imagine the locale in each scene. Ben Hall designed the set following the ideas Hatcher developed to build the effective yet simple space. Technically the show is quite well done, and the timing from the crew is just as crucial for the production as the timing from the actors. Laurie Blankenship is double-timing to meet the countdowns required, and doing so with stamina and graciousness.
It is interesting to note that two of the Hyde actors are also artists and Carpenter Square is displaying their work in the lobby during the run of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” as the theatre frequently does. David Burkhart is a photographer and Albert Bostick is a painter. Both of them do captivating work, but it is fascinating to view their work at intermission, imagining that the art was created by their Hyde personas. It gives their work an air of mystery for the show that is quite fun.
“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is a directorial triumph for Rhonda Clark as well as for her cast. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” plays through March 9, 2019 at Carpenter Square Theatre. The theatre is located at 800 W. Main in downtown Oklahoma City. For information and tickets email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit online at www.carpentersquare.com or call 405-232-6500. Lovers of mystery, horror, suspense, humor and the classics-in short everyone-will love this production. It is the best of community theatre.