A Dreary Night of Theatre: Steer Clear!

A Review of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
at ACT
by Tavis H.

In this crazy world, time is money. We run to and fro trying to make short term bucks, long term bucks, and ultimately just enough bucks to get by. But sometimes all this buck bogarting can become a little tiring and we spend some of that cold hard cash on entertainment. Now when people like you and me seek entertainment we usually go for a movie, a concert, a night at the symphony, or a play. It is most disappointing when one learns that have spent their money to have someone waste their time.

This is the problem with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde -the newly proclaimed “opus” of the rising American actor and playwright Jeffery Hatcher -a man that ACT Theater would like you to think is a rising star- it tricks you into thinking you are going to see a stage adaptation of one of the most celebrated novels of the latter two hundred years, then successfully robs you blind and wastes your time. Jekyll and Hyde is a striking example of how avant-garde theater can be an enormously pretentious flop; a parade of strained messages, weak themes, and moral conundrums –usually in the form of making you feel torn between leaving at intermission or sucking it up and pretending to get your money’s worth.

To briefly summarize the show, it’s loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story of the esteemed Doctor Jekyll who discovers a potion that can alter the physical and mental attributes of a person. Upon taking it, he transforms into the nefarious Mr. Hyde, a murderous, hateful misanthrope.

The story itself is an alluring target for the modern playwright. I can see how it could be envisioned as a strong base for being crafted and altered into a psycho-philosophical exploration into nihilism, existentialism, realism, justice, emotion, good/evil, and all the other mumbo jumbo in-between. However where it fails miserably is in the key word PLOT.

When dealing with philosophical shows like Waiting for Godot or Equus you are dealing with a show that is powerful because its plot is layered around a core of these messages, themes, and philosophy (MTP’s). These MTP’s are liquid, hardly tangible, free to interpret as we please, and no where near as solid as a plot. Therefore the well structured MTP show ends up like one of those vodka filled truffles; liquid on the inside, but cleverly held together by a shell of chocolate on the outside.

However, Jeffery Hatcher seems to get this arrangement very confused. He tries to layer the plot driven story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with MTP’s. What you end up with is a small, solid, chocolate core with the vodka on the outside; it is very messy, and does not hold together one bit. What it results in is a quasi-minimalist, avant-garde flop that reminds us where the stereotype of bombastically vain theater comes from.

Now, it would be unfair to rail against this show -nay, tear it a new one- without describing why it so dismally failed; and the one word to do so is script. The script is dreadfully loose, frequently dispersing imbecilic koans of hackneyed wisdom regarding morality meeting inherent nature, the mind juxtaposed to the brain, and one of my favorites, the discussion on how “the will is all one needs” and how “sin is nothing but weakness.” In other words if you have taken a psychology or basic philosophy class you will find these questions and statements awfully convoluted regarding the sense that the show can’t decide if it’s empiricist or rationalist; a failure of distinction that leaves you robbed of that little kernel of joy that you have at the end of a show or play where you say to yourself “hmmmm, that’s an interesting concept-- I’m going to think about that.” No, no, my friends, the way it has been written leads to the elusion of all facets of critical thinking, and in its place leaves a dark hole of mediocrity; one that leaves you nonchalant as well as nonplussed. The cliché dialogue not only dins the ears of the audience, but also renders a state of blasé drudgery for the techies, director, and actors.

The script is life and death for any fine actor. A great actor can deliver a script so as to make it excellent, but when it comes to actors that are skilled in their profession, yet not quite great, a script can annihilate them all. This was what definitely happened to the victimized actors of Jekyll and Hyde. They were killed by their script. It was clear that all of them were pouring great amounts of energy and focus into creating and maintaining the multiple characters they had to play (despite the fact that the Scottish accents were atrocious) yet only two were able to escape the poor structure and cheap, two-bit dialogue of the show. They were David Pichette (Mr. Gabriel Utterson, Mr. Edward Hyde) a wonderful Seattle actor, and Bradford Farwell (Dr. Henry Jekyll) a fine actor making his Seattle debut.

Now there was some err on the parts of the actors. Many of the lines they delivered were cut with long, strained pauses and stutters. This would often lead the audience into falling out of the illusion and wonder whether the actor had forgotten a line or was just not delivering it well. There is also one actress who was good, but horribly miscast. Sylvie Davidson (Ms. Elizabeth Jelkes) is clearly strong in her trade but was poorly directed and was allowed to go into a form of acting more fitting for the drama of the high school grapevine.

The totality of the show cannot be entirely blamed on the script however, for there was another significant flaw that forced my date and I to draw blood from our knuckles trying not to laugh out loud. The music of the show was mostly that of Phillip Glass’ Dracula soundtrack –an epic that I have a great affection for- and was played at the most inappropriate times, reminding me of the Ingmar Bergman movie Smiles of the Summer Night and how Bergman decided to place the most comical sound bits at the most awkward spots. If you are unfamiliar with Bergman’s film, imagine watching a very serious courtroom drama, and all of the sudden, in the middle of a tear jerking witness stand confession, Banana Phone starts blasting over the PA system…yes, it is very silly.

It is with this in mind, my friends, that I suggest you steer clear from ACT until May 22nd –when another show comes out- for if you go, you will be grossly disappointed and you will feel that your five or ten dollars could have gone towards scrumptiously well-priced Thai food instead of a dreary night at a show that is more confused than its own main character.

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde plays at ACT now through May 9th
visit www.acttheatre.org or call 206 292-7676
for tickets and information.

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