Dallas — Tall bottles and globe-shaped vials cast a green glow in a secret laboratory below us, a stooped figure in a long cloak tramps over a fallen body and hobbles up the steps in a far corner, and a fashionably clad Victorian gentleman rises from a pink stuffed chair in his library on a corner platform.
Within minutes of taking our seats in Theatre Three’s arena stage, we’re swept into the dark undercurrents of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jeffrey Hatcher’s 2008 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th century novella.
The Scottish writer Stevenson sought to expose the dangerous hypocrisy arising from the simplistic Victorian assumption that good men are good through and through and lust and murderous violence are acts of hideous monsters, totally foreign to the civilized man in drawing room society.
Hatcher broadens Stevenson’s pre-Freudian insight into the complexities of human personality by creating not one, but four unique Edward Hydes, each an embodiment of a different facet of evil. The four Hydes in this superb six-actor production also appear as butlers, lawyers, physicians and other respectable folks in Dr. Jekyll’s London circle, dramatizing further the message that we all have our internal beasts, capable of emerging suddenly if repressed too tightly beneath starched colors and rigid societal conventions.
Director Christie Vela uses every stair and corner riser in the arena stage to create a powerfully physical production of a play about the multiplicity of the human mind. Amanda West’s adroit scenic design and Aaron Johansen’s lighting work together to shift our focus swiftly from the street lamp at the top of the stairs to a dusky corner near an exit. Vela keeps the center stage open for her actors to run, fight or deliver their innermost thoughts directly to us in this intimate theater.
The play’s inherent intensity is increased by Vela’s emphasizing direct confrontation, whether it’s the humiliation of a ridiculously fatuous doctor inspecting a battered corpse, or a sudden brutal beating pushed quickly into an alleyway.
The six-member cast, four playing multiple roles, is familiar to theatergoers from many outstanding performances in companies throughout the Metroplex.
Michael Federico is a driven and brilliant Jekyll, arrogant and dismissive of anyone questioning his scientific intentions. He is especially intent on discovering why a violent criminal asks himself the murder, “What have I done?” Federico’s tightening smile makes us constantly aware of the mounting pressure the “good” Dr. Jekyll is feeling as his experiment to release the anger and lust inside gradually result in a struggle for control as the Hydes within him battle for dominance.
Jeremy Schwartz, bearded and with his long locks brushed or frazzled, is remarkably convincing as both Jekyll’s trusted lawyer and our narrator reporting what he knows of the quandary, and the murderous, violent Hyde No. 1.
Robert Gemaehlich is a comically grandiose teaching surgeon declaiming to observing students that the murdered prostitute on his table has a “small brain” indicating her stupidity, and then drooling over her “perfect breasts.” He is also a canny and sly Hyde No. 2, wickedly pleased by how easily he deceives those inquiring about his relationship with Jekyll.
Cameron Cobb is the sympathetic and loyal colleague Jekyll turns to in his most desperate moments. Then he dawns the signature long gray cloak and becomes the dashing and lustful Hyde No. 3 who seduces and cruelly controls the willing and beautiful young chambermaid Elizabeth (a sensual, yet vulnerable Natalie Young).
Kia Nicole Boyer, her hair shaved in a top crew, is Jekyll’s elegant and reliable butler, ushering guests into the salon and maintaining a stiff Victorian posture, until she becomes Hyde No. 4, a sexually abandoned creature who draws others to her with her alluring moves and a teasing laughter.
Melissa Panzerrollo’s handsome period costumes make us feel both the luxury and the restriction of the Victorian era, and provides plush cloaks and silver-handled canes for the dramatic transformations that take place before our eyes. John M. Flores’ sound design provides appropriately creepy shrieks and thuds and includes original music by Jim/John Make Noise.
As the suspense mounts, we see Federico’s Jekyll pushed further and further to confront his demons, particularly in a stunning scene in which all the good doctor’s friends become the Hydes within through a dramatic sleight-of-hand that involves four sudden shifts of lighting and the magic of actors with the power to be many people at once.
You may think you know this story, but you won’t want to miss Hatcher’s surprising and revealing climax to the even stranger-than-you-remember case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Terrific theater that’ll make you rethink your own doppelganger within.