Review: ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ at Thunder River Theatre
If You Go …
What: ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ presented by Thunder River Theatre Company
Where: Lon Winston Theatre, Thunder River, Carbondale
When: Oct. 7-9; 13-15
How much: $15-$25
The plot of Dr. Jekyll and his monstrous alter ego Mr. Hyde is as familiar as any in fiction – look no further than “Mr. Robot” or “Fight Club” for evidence of its timelessness. It’s also ingrained in our everyday discourse — less than an hour after the curtain fell on Saturday night’s Thunder River Theatre Co. performance of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in Carbondale, I heard a sportscaster characterize the erratic performances of a Colorado Rockies pitcher by using the compound adjective “Jekyll-and-Hyde.”
So how, in 2016, does a stage production make Jekyll and Hyde fresh? Thunder River looks to Jeffrey Hatcher’s 2008 stage adaptation for a contemporary, complex and creepy take on the classic.
Rather than a simple transformation from the doctor into the murderous monster, this Jekyll’s Hyde is portrayed by four different actors — Gerald DeLisser, Owen O’Farrell, Nathan Cox and Jennifer Schiller, who all juggle multiple roles. In various combinations, they torment Jekyll (Franz Alderfer) and often speak as a chorus behind him. This not only amps up the scare factor, but speaks to the facets of Jekyll’s sinister subconscious.
As Jekyll, Alderfer works in several registers. He can be slick, confident and capable among his colleagues, but also proud and petty as he cuts down his rival Dr. Carew in front of his students. Early on, Alderfer also injects his performance with an arch humor that provides some surprising laughs in the fist act. But his smirk fades as Jekyll unravels, Hyde takes over and the body count rises.
Thunder River’s fantastic set is configured as an alley bisecting the audience, with two doors at each end cut into walls divided into a mosaic of geometric shapes. We’re left to imagine the laboratories, hotel rooms and streets of London where the bloody play unfolds. This, along with Sean Jeffries’ aggressive lighting, is an inspired touch — the production abandons tactile realism, takes us out of Victorian London and into a psychological twilight zone. In that place, the play can unfold not just as a 19th-century suspense thriller but as an exploration of the complexity of the mind.
Jekyll wins our sympathy because his plight is a familiar one today, as he tries to will himself not to indulge Hyde.
“You don’t know what peace of mind means until you’ve been tortured by its opposite,” Jekyll says early on.
A weak point, and a missed opportunity, is the development of the relationship between Hyde and the chambermaid Elizabeth (Cassidy Willey). She falls in love with him, but we’re given no indication as to what draws her to this nasty gargoyle of a man.
The production, running through Oct. 15, is directed by Corey Simpson. It opens the company’s first season under his leadership as artistic director, and suggests some bold choices and great things are to come from Thunder River.
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