Review: IRT’s Jekyll & Hyde Delights Many Personalities

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It seems as though my high school taught me well—when you went to the Indiana Repertory Theatre for a field trip, you dressed nice. And sure enough, a night out at the theater still seems to be quite the occasion here in Indy, with much of the crowd attending Friday’s opening night of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, the first show of the 2012-13 season, decked out in blazers, button-ups, and cocktail dresses. (See photos from the show’s opening night soirees at the IRT here.)

Of course, not everyone was dressed to the nines, with a good chunk of attendees sporting the usual office wear, but the fancy vibe fit well with the pre-show VIP party, where a smorgasbord of hors d’oeuvres was served to guests on the balcony as a jazz band’s tunes permeated the air all the way down to the OneAmerica Stage. Even the bar on this occasion had a theme, and a five-spot bought a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde shot, served in a two-faced plastic shot glass with Kahlua on one side and Bailey’s liquer on the other. A friendly bartender doled out good advice: Make sure you keep the plastic divider toward you when you drink, lest you only savor one half of this dual-personality concoction.

After an hour of devouring bacon-wrapped chicken, shrimp skewers, and cocktails, theatergoers packed into a near full house, where the show opened with screams and twinkling, subtly sinister music on par with what Blue Man Group would compose for a suspense film. (If you’re unsure, that’s a good thing.) The play follows the classic story: Dr. Jekyll is the mild-mannered British doctor who, by drinking from a green-liquid-filled test tube, becomes the murderous, depraved Mr. Hyde.

As the show’s writer, Jeffrey Hatcher, emphasized to me after the show, his version branches out on its own creative path by splitting the role of Hyde among four different actors (more than half of this small, six-person cast). In a fantastic costuming choice, each Hyde actor wears the same herringbone tweed jacket while playing other roles but turns up the collar to reveal a lime-green underside whenever they, like Jekyll with his green potion, become Hyde. This staging allows for several scenes where multiple Hydes dominate the space, and the actors even seem to represent the voices in Jekyll’s head during one scene where the doctor fumbles in his interaction with the only female character in the show, Elizabeth.

Hatcher told me that he wanted to create something that could only be performed on the stage, and he certainly succeeded with the multiple Hydes, which was one of the strongest elements of this adaptation. Another strength lies in the addition of the Elizabeth character (played by Cora Vander Broek), who not only brings to light the sexual urges of both Jekyll and Hyde but also manages to make the villainous Hyde a sympathetic character, completely turning the story on its head. Elizabeth’s sassy attitude keeps her from seeming as though she’s merely manipulated by Hyde, and although she knows her beau is a murderer, she loves him unconditionally. The audience might scream foul at this until they realize that Hyde loves her just the same. The line between good and evil is severely blurred, and by the end of the show, viewers may find their loyalties siding with Hyde instead of Jekyll, rendering the audience itself quite torn.

Kevin Cox primarily carries the role of Hyde, and certainly stands out for his playful expressions and cackles, lending a Batman–villain vibe to a character who is equal parts entertaining and creepy. This slender cast does a fantastic job of juggling multiple roles and, of course, 19th–century British accents. But the show’s stage and lighting designers deserve just as much credit as the actors for transforming a set essentially composed of black iron bars and staircases into a sprawling London world with illuminated streets and one violent, dark underbelly.

On this night, the show closed in one final, immediate flash of darkness. The audience responded with a standing ovation, and a post-show champagne toast, replete with another array of appetizers, gave viewers the chance to mingle with the show’s director, writer, and cast. Theatergoers could even enter the world of Jekyll and Hyde themselves by exploring the stage.

This adaptation lets viewers become invested in the moral compass of the story as much or as little as they desire. Sometimes the immense task of choreographing the multiple Hydes feels a bit overdone. That said, the show provides a surprising number of laughs and will satisfy both those who just want to have a fun night out on the town and those who wish to delve deeper into the repercussions of self-repression and the boundaries between good and evil. Have it your way.

>> MORE: See Myrydd Wells’s Q&A with Jeffrey Hatcher, the show’s writer.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde runs though Sept. 30; $20-$55; 317-635-5252; irtlive.com
Photos courtesy Indiana Repertory Theatre

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