New spin on classic story Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Jekyll and Hyde ... the story's been told so many times.
But not like this.
Based on the 19th-Century novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, this version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which will be presented by the Wilton Playshop, is unlike any of the film, television, radio, or even theatrical productions that have come before. It will be on stage for two weekends: Oct. 26-28 and Nov. 1-3.
This version is an adaptation by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher that strips the story to its essentials — the conflict of good versus evil found in each of us.
In this version, Dr. Henry Jekyll, upstanding physician but also a drug addict, must face not one but four versions of Edward Hyde. It is directed by Mat Young, who said Mr. Hatcher "breathed new energy and life" into the familiar story by focusing on "the duality of man as well as the repression heightened in the Victorian world."
Mr. Hatcher has been quoted as saying: "In my version the roles are somewhat reversed, as are some aspects of Jekyll and Hyde themselves. One of the arguments I've never quite believed — and I suspect Stevenson didn't believe it either — is that Henry Jekyll is wholly good while Edward Hyde is wholly evil.
"I'm trying to have some fun with the notion that Jekyll and Hyde play a cat-and-mouse game with each other, and with the question of just who we should be rooting for."
The cast includes six actors — four men and two women — one playing Dr. Jekyll, one playing Elizabeth, and four playing Hyde and other characters. (One Hyde is seductive, one is repressed, one is rageful, and one is mischievous.)
That presented some challenges for Mr. Young. Regarding the various incarnations of Hyde, he said, "We have four unique actors with a broad age range."
"I worked with their uniqueness," he said. "We did exercises to get them on the same page in the way they move. We did mask work to help them see things through others' eyes."
Lighting, set and music, composed specifically for this production, all help to tell the story.
"The music can create a jarringness," Mr. Young said of the composition created by Ryan Caron King, a student at Connecticut College. "It draws out a certain uncomfortableness in the audience, and that's appropriate."
The story, according to Mr. Young, "is a brutal journey into the darkness and poor Jekyll's desire to do good ... but he falls on his face pretty hard. He's a gentleman but also a drug addict.
"His public mask and private mask have huge conflicts. ... In the end, the music highlights the emotional rhythm of the play and sets the tone."
At the heart of it all, according to Mr. Young, is the acting.
"The cast is excellent," he said. "They're the ones doing the work. They are calling upon things deeper in themselves to tell the story."
From his point of view, "the buy-in from the actors makes you feel there's nothing you can't do."
Nick Theodoseau plays "Hyde 3" and Dr. Lanyon.
"The four Hydes represent different aspects [of Dr. Jekyll]", he said. "Each has to be different but they all have to be the same. It's not something I'd done before in terms of how your body moves on stage."
Mr. Theodoseau has traveled here from West Haven, where he produces plays for the Shoestring Theater Co. Acting in this play, however, "is probably more work than I've done in any play I produced," he said.
Peter Green splits his stage time between the narrator, Gabriel John Utterson, who is also Dr. Jekyll's friend and solicitor, and the earliest Hyde.
When asked last week how he approached his character, he said, "I'm still approaching Hyde. The fun is seeing how far away from social convention can I go. How extreme? He's not a monster but he's way weird."
On the flip side is Utterson, the voice of reason.
"Going back and forth it's good fun," said Mr. Green, who lives in Port Chester, N.Y., and runs the Longshore Theater. "Actors like this stuff. It's why they call it playing."
Kevin McGuire, originally from Wilton but now in Danbury, portrays Dr. Jekyll. As an actor, he is intrigued by dealing with the repercussions of Hyde's out-of-control actions on stage.
"The way someone acts and how it affects you as a person is interesting. You don't get to do this much in community theater."
The cast also includes Phil Cook, Alexandria Clapp and Julie Thaxter-Gourlay.
Mr. Young is no stranger to the theater and no stranger to theater in Wilton. He studied acting at Roger Williams College in Bristol, R.I., and attended a two-year intensive program at the New Actors Workshop.
While presently a stay-at-home dad with his two sons in Norwalk, he has his own production company called Dessert First Productions. He is the theater director at Brewster (N.Y.) High School and has produced a number of shows at Wilton High School. He has also worked with students on summer shows at the Playshop.
Working with young people is something he is passionate about. Theater, he said, can teach critical thinking, build confidence and instill a sense of community.
"So much comes from 'I didn't know how to do it but I figured it out.'"
As for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mr. Young said the downside of presenting a well-known story is that people come in with certain expectations. The flip side is the audience has some knowledge of the story.
"This play is very different and very risky," he said. But that is why he was drawn to it. "I want to go on a journey and discover what it is."
He said he wants to take the audience with him. "I think people will walk in thinking one thing and leave thinking another," he said. "There's a lot to think about. ... Art should move you in some way. I think this play has it in spades. It will just stay with you."
Show times are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8, Sunday afternoons at 2. Tickets are $20/adults, $15/students and seniors. Ticket information: wiltonplayshop.org, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203-762-7629.