Jeffrey Hatcher has adapted several plays, refashioning Tuesdays with Morrie and The Turn of the Screw, both of which have been performed at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. His latest show there, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was originally commissioned for the Arizona Theatre Company and received a 2009 Edgar Award nomination for Best Play. I caught up with the playwright at his show’s opening night reception at the IRT, and we talked about his vision for it and the novel choice to make Hyde a four-person role.
MYRYDD WELLS: What was your mode of thinking for choosing this play as something you wanted to take on?
JEFFREY HATCHER: The thing I found exciting about it was to be able to play theatrically with the idea of how to depict a whole bunch of Hydes, and also to play around with variations on a theme of good and evil. I mean, it has been adapted something like eight billion times, but it’s usually adapted in this one central meaning the same way: there’s the good guy and the bad guy. Now let’s play around with that. The bad guy can become sensitive, the bad guy can get the girl, you know? So I liked the idea that we would start the show pretty much the same way they always do and then shuffle the cards a bit.
MW: Do you think that portraying Hyde as not purely evil was part of the original story or was it a concept you interpreted?
JH: I don’t know if I’m the first to come up with it, but it certainly isn’t in the original or lots of the other versions. Usually, Henry Jekyll is the nicest, best-looking, sweetest guy and he usually has a lovely fiancee. And then there’s usually a good-time girl, and she’s usually abused by Hyde but falls for Jekyll. If you look at the Fredric March film or the Spencer Tracy film, that’s basically the set-up. And I just thought: I went to high school, I saw plenty of girls fall for guys I thought were not good, so let’s play with that aspect. Sexuality is not something that you find in the original novella at all. There are only minor female characters in the novella and you hear that Hyde does all sort of horrible, depraved things but they’re never stated. Did he knit late at night? Did he stay out late? You have to imagine that includes things like sex, so I wanted to ramp that up in a different way.
MW: Is there anything else you wanted to say with your adaptation?
JH: Whenever I do (an adaptation), I want to make it theatrically alive, so I certainly didn’t want us to have a show that would be as effective as a TV movie. You can only get away with multiple actors playing Hyde and the kind of things they did in this production if it’s a theater piece as opposed to a book on stage. There was one other idea I liked: that (Jekyll and Hyde) could begin to interact with each other. I hadn’t seen that in a version before. They’re usually so separate as ideas and here we have the opportunity for them to actually yell at each other and trick each other.
MW: How did you approach the concept of having multiple actors play Hyde in this play?
JH: Because it’s been adapted so many times, when I looked at it the first time, I thought, “I don’t want to do the things other people have done.” I don’t want the handsome actor who goes, “Arugh!” and then shakes his hair and now he’s Hyde, and I didn’t want the handsome actor to duck behind a desk and then a second actor stands up. Something did strike me about addiction and alcoholism. Every time a drunk drinks, he doesn’t have the same kind of drunken experience. They’re different levels. The way I’ll be buzzed off a couple of champagnes is different from if I have a whole bottle of scotch. If I have cocaine, I’m going to be different from if I have a Valium or if I have pot. My body will start to react differently to small and large amounts, so I thought if Hyde is a function of addiction, then sometimes he’s going to rage and sometimes he’s going to be cold. He’s always going to be negative, but he’s not always going to be the same Hyde.
For example, one of the actors (who portrays Hyde) is a woman, and the first time she actively becomes Hyde is when Jekyll is trying to ask Elizabeth (Hyde’s love interest) out on a date. She says, “What do you want?” and some of the other Hydes are like, “Kill her, screw her, destroy her,” and he’s like, “Well, no, I don’t really want to do quite that.” And then the feminine side is activated, the one that’s empathetic and sweet and nice. And if people get a certain lesbian frisson out of that, that’s perfectly fine by me. But it’s kind of like Jekyll triggers an aspect of himself that he didn’t know he had, and that’s the one that Elizabeth goes away with.
MW: Do the four different Hydes represent various aspects of his character?
JH: I try to leave it open to any production, but I always suggest that the woman do that bit. Other than that, you guys decide. Imagine you cast an actor who’s a big brute. Have that guy do all the big physical stuff. If you’ve got an actor who’s very cold and dry, maybe even an actor in his 70s, that will be the coldest, most desecrated version of Hyde. I leave it up to the production.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde runs though Sept. 30; $20-$55; 317-635-5252; irtlive.com
Photo courtesy Indiana Repertory Theatre
Photo (L-R): Artistic Director Janet Allen, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, and IRT playwright in residence James Still