Theatre: Classic Tale Told Anew with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Jekyll in his lab. Jekyll in his lab.

The evil that is inherent to the human condition raises its head at every given instance. There is little that needs to trigger it, nudge it to show its ugly head. But how does one tame that evil, how do we contain the damage that can be caused when that evil takes control? This question has been the subject of debate, analysis and research for as long as human societies have existed. Then came a doctor, who created a tincture believing that if we were able to locate and confine this evil, its force would be easily contained. If we were able to separate this evil from the rest of who we are, then placing it in shackles would be easy.

The famed novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the 19th century Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson is brought to Montreal’s Mainline Theatre by director Christopher Moore. It’s the Jekyll-Hyde story that has been synonymous with our good-evil dichotomy for over a hundred years.

Moore takes a 2008 adaptation of the story (by Jeffery Hatcher) where this old world tale has multiple actors playing Hyde: directed at exploring different sides of him and pushing him into different human situations, including romance. With a group of varyingly talented actors, the play is entertaining for the most part and with some success presents the dilemma of our essential human nature.

The play begins with Hyde accidentally bumping into a woman, as he rushes down a street while making his way back home. The woman falls to the side and Hyde tramples her. A crowd gathers and a Mr. Enfield and Mr. Utterson (Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer) chase Hyde and demand that he pay reparations to avoid a scandal. Hyde very reluctantly invites them back to his apartment and presents a cheque to give to the woman. As a guarantee of payment, he presents a letter signed by Dr. Henry Jekyll warranting for Hyde. This sets into a motion a chain of events involving intrigue, secrets and a trail of diabolical acts that Hyde leaves behind him.

Jekyll is known in the medical circles of London as one who questions the status quo and has no tolerance for irrational or religious beliefs that drive medical diagnosis. He runs a laboratory of his own at home where he experiments and plays with tinctures. Unknown to the world he has this secret life that he has been leading. While the social circles of London have stories going around of this mysterious man who walks the streets at night and leaves behind him a trail of injury, blood and all forms of violence, no one knows who he is.

The letter signed by Jekyll in Hyde’s possession gets Utterson thinking and he asks Jekyll how a person of such degraded standing found favor with him. While the play obviously gives enough room for Hyde’s character to flourish and play out through different actors, Jekyll’s character suffers and comes across as one-dimensional, merely reacting to the news of Hyde’s actions. While Alex Goldrich pours his heart into playing Jekyll, his platform is limited and he doesn’t have half the stage time he should.

The use of different actors to play Hyde works well and brings excitement and an element of surprise. The audience is always left guessing where Hyde might be lurking; he might jump out with a bang anytime. Actor James Harrington’s “acting” of Hyde comes across as such and it’s Lucas Chartier-Dennert who brings out the dread that Hyde embodies. Chartier-Dennert shines whenever he is on stage and plays Utterson just as convincingly.

The introduction of Hyde’s love interest Elizabeth (played by Allie Shapiro) is the weakest link as the actors Shapiro and Harrington struggle to find chemistry. But it is an interesting element to try and humanize Hyde, the evil monster who doesn’t know how to love. Martin Law as both Hyde and Jekyll’s rival medical practitioner does well in his supporting role. However, the artistic choice to constantly move the “red” door around the stage eventually gets disorienting.

High on entertainment value, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde should be seen for its reminder that our essential goodness is only a split second away from our innate desire to falter.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde plays at the Mainline Theatre on April 16-18 and 21-25 at 8 p.m., on April 19 and 28 at 2 p.m. $20/18.