What a difference a director can make, and by director I mean MaryJo DuPrey, whose vision for Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde at Actors Co-op has inspired an outstanding cast and brilliant team of designers to take a play about which I had previously expressed decidedly mixed feelings and turned it into a psychological thriller par excellence.
Photo1_sm Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher sticks closely enough to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde for its fans (and those of its many film and stage adaptations) to recognize both its noble hero Dr. Henry Jekyll and its terrifying villain, the murderous Mr. Edward Hyde, whom Jekyll becomes upon imbibing a serum created in hopes of suppressing his evil urges. (Talk about a plan backfiring.)

Previous adaptations—including films starring John Barrymore and Spencer Tracy and the much-revived Frank Wildhorn musical, most recently on Broadway with Constantine Maroulis as the titular Jekyll & Hyde—have focused on the physical transformation of Jekyll into Hyde, with or without the aid of makeup.

Hatcher opts to cast one actor as Dr. Jekyll and has four of the five supporting players play Mr. Hyde (in addition to multiple other roles) in Stevenson’s tale.

When first I saw Hatcher’s play a few years back, I wrote as follows: “It’s anyone’s guess what the playwright’s intentions are, as a single actor playing both Jekyll and Hyde has worked perfectly fine in adaptation after adaptation until now.”

Photo5_sm Director DuPrey and her gifted team of actors and designers now reveal the method in Hatcher’s madness. Perhaps no other adaptation has made it so clear just how complete Dr. Jekyll’s transformation into Mr. Hyde is, making it no wonder that no one recognizes Hyde and Jekyll as being the same person. In Hatcher’s play they aren’t—to powerful, conversation-provoking effect. (Is the playwright saying that each and every one of us has it in us to become Hyde? Talk amongst yourselves.)

Photo3_sm We enter multiple personality disorder-afflicted Dr. Jekyll’s adventures in evil midway through, Hatcher leaving till later on in the play to reveal the good doctor’s motivation for transforming himself into the murderous Mr. Hyde. In fact, it’s Hyde we glimpse first (in attack mode, naturally)—or should that be Hydes plural? A witness to Hyde’s attacks comments that “he has an elusive face.” No wonder, since as previously mentioned, Hatcher has four different actors (three male, one female) bringing Hyde to nefarious life.

Photo8_sm Stephen Van Dorn (dynamic as always) is Dr. Jekyll and the lovely Greyson Chadwick his romantic interest Elizabeth Jelkes (the young woman Hatcher has fall in love, not with Jekyll, but with Hyde).

Photo6_sm All the rest play several supporting roles, both large and small. Isaac Wade is Jekyll’s close friend Gabriel Utterson; Mark Bramhall is both Sir Danvers Carew, the doctor’s archrival, and Utterson’s friend Richard Enfield; Paul Turbiak is mostly sympathetic Jekyll colleague Dr. H.K. Lanyon; and Deborah Marlowe executes several (sometimes gender-bending) roles including Jekyll servant Poole. (Dialect coach Coco Kleppinger once again guarantees authentic accents from each.)

Every single member of DuPrey’s cast of six is absolutely terrific, with special snaps to a standout Turbiak, whose transformation from good guy Lanyon to the evilest Mr. Hyde of all is quite breathtaking.

Still, none of the above would work as strikingly well as it does without the contributions of one of the finest design teams in town, who bring DuPrey’s inspired concept to dark, stark life.

Photo4_sm The titled lampposts in scenic designer Ellen Lenbergs’ striking, versatile set take as their inspiration the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s (think the silent horror film classic The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari) as do the characters’ stylized make-up and the jerky, dance-like moves we see as the play’s cast of characters find themselves transformed into various versions of Hyde. Add to this Pablo Santiago’s masterful lighting, its blood-red effects particularly arresting, Vicki Conrad’s dramatic period costumes in blacks and reds, Nicholas Acciani’s multiple props, Hyde’s lethal cane just one of them and Krys Fehervari’s excellent hair/wig design, and you’ve got a Grade A production design made sensational by Austin Quan’s pulsating sound design, one which sets the entire David Schall Theatre to vibrating when it’s not filling the theater with other frightening effects.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is produced by Rhonda Kohl. Samantha Else is stage manager.

One of the boldest offerings yet from the Christian-based Actors Co-op, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is also one of the company’s most memorable, and one that fits the Co-op’s 22nd Season theme (Stories Of The Soul … From The Heart) quite thought-provokingly indeed.

Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
November 1, 2013
Photos: Lindsay Schnebly

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