Reviewed by Judy Richter
Because we're human, no one is all good or all evil. Everyone is a mixture of both, although some may tilt more one way than the other. This complexity of human nature is what intrigued author Robert Louis Stevenson in his "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." This same complexity propels playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's new adaptation of the novella, staged at San Jose Repertory Theatre as a co-production with Arizona Theatre Company. The latter's artistic director, David Ira Goldstein, directs this world premiere.
David Edgar's 1991 adaptation, staged by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2006, had one actor playing both the good Dr. Jekyll and the evil Mr. Hyde. Hatcher takes a different tack. Although one actor, R. Hamilton Wright, portrays Henry Jekyll, four actors, including a woman, portray Hyde in addition to other characters. Sometimes they switch characters almost instantaneously, stressing the idea that these "good" people harbor darker sides. The main burden of Hyde falls on Mark Anderson Phillips, who also portrays Hyde's friend Dr. H.K. Lanyon and two minor characters. Phillips is wonderfully evil and then conflicted as Hyde, especially when he falls in love with Elizabeth Jelkes (Anna Bullard), the sister of one of his victims. Like Wright, Bullard portrays only one character, and does so convincingly.
Ken Ruta also does a turn as Hyde, but he primarily plays Jekyll's sensible solicitor, Garbriel Utterson. Ruta shows once again that he's one of the Bay Area's most gifted actors. Yet another Hyde is Stephen D'Ambrose, who portrays such varied characters as Jekyll's nemesis, Sir Danvers Carew; his friend Richard Enfield; a police inspector and another of Jekyll's colleagues, O.F. Sanderson. Carrie Paff nicely completes the quartet of Hydes, lending a feminine note to his character. She also plays Poole, Jekyll's proper British butler, along with a maid and three minor male characters.
Kent Dorsey's set initially resemble a surgical theater dominated by a giant red door in the center of the upper level. As the play begins, this door rises, to be replaced on the main level by another red door, which moves to represent scene changes. Dawn Chiang's lighting, Roberta Carlson's music and Brian Jerome Peterson's sound contribute to the tension. Anna Oliver's costumes evoke the late 19th century and help to reinforce Hatcher's theme. In one especially telling scene, Wright's Jekyll and Paff's Hyde resemble each other as they stand side by side, then confront each other face to face, both dressed alike and both about the same height.
Thanks to Goldstein's able direction, his talented design team and the skill of his actors, this "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" works well and brings intriuging new insights to a familiar tale.