Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde at City Theatre | Program Notes
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde at City Theatre

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 10:05 AM

Monster stories tend toward the metaphorically rich. See yesterday's post on the zombie play The Revenants, for instance; any vampire story; and, maybe best of all, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which I've been reading.

But one useful take on playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Stevenson's 1883 classic (which runs through Sun., Nov. 8) is that it's about drug addiction.

On one level, that's pretty obvious. Jekyll can't stop taking the potion that Hydes him. He experiences the transformations as blackouts; denies he's an addict; and says that fixing things is just a matter of finding the proper balance of chemicals. 

But Hatcher's theatrical approach, as realized here by director Tracy Brigden, adds intriguing twists. Jekyll (played by David Whalen) never "becomes" Hyde; he's simply replaced on stage by him. Four other actors play variations on Hyde, though the most prevalent is Kelly Boulware's. At times, it seems the only actor on stage who isn't playing Hyde is Whalen.

Meanwhile, Hatcher's script works to find the admirable and despicable in both Doctor and Mister. At an anatomy lecture, Jekyll is the voice of science against the pseudoscience of another doctor's self-satisfied conjectures, while Hyde's running about carving up prostitutes. Yet it's Jekyll who literally can't face himself, while Hyde is all about confronting his dark side.

That's the framework for the drug read. Jekyll got into his mess because he wanted a chemical solution to humanity's baser instincts -- which suggests that Hatcher sees prescription psychiatric pharmaceuticals as problematic, too. (Jekyll also insists on "a distinction between the brain and the mind.")

Jekyll's problem is truly that he doesn't want to deal with whatever darker urges pulse inside him. He'd prefer to deaden them with his superego, or the mores of Victorian England. ("The will is all one needs," he says. "Sin is nothing but weakness.") Failing that, he tries chemistry. When that doesn't work, he hires a detective to follow Hyde. Then he calls the cops ("The whole of English law enforcement will be looking for you.")

It's all to save himself, Hatcher makes clear, from the parts of him he won't admit to. Kind of his own little personal war on drugs.

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