Reviewed by Katherine Karlson
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which opened Friday (Oct. 7) at the Chenango River Theatre is an ideal if creepy treat to savor as CRT’s season closes ahead of Halloween.
The play by Jeffrey Hatcher is adapted from the famous novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, but it’s not your grandfather’s Gothic horror archetype. The writing is crisp, sometimes lyrical, and witty, and the ensemble of actors deliver this complex new twist on an old tale with subtle skill and artistry. CRT’s producing artistic director, Zach Curtis, both directed the production and designed the striking minimalist set. Its central focus is a blood-red door, which stands for more than a physical entry or exit. The grim, gray wooden walls that form the backdrop echo the Whitechapel alleys and docks where Jack the Ripper hunted his unfortunate prey in 1888.
A lone cellist, Jeff McAuley, provides an auditory frisson throughout the play without distraction to the dialogue or action. The music perfectly complements the dark, fearful atmosphere.
As the play develops, we learn that doorways into the mind are the singular pursuit of the protagonist, Dr. Henry Jekyll. Brian Linden gives the edgy physician a sympathetic intensity as a decent, ethical man whose scientific curiosity takes a wrong turn. In his search to uncover the open door between the two minds, he releases his moral opposite, Edward Hyde.
The rest of the ensemble take turns portraying the evil alter ego, and Derek Emerson Powell gives a special menace to the character. His scenes with the unsuspecting chambermaid, Elizabeth, indicate there is still a shred of human feeling buried deep within the self-centered monster. Skylar Jeffries as Elizabeth makes the woman who actually loves Hyde fearless but not feckless.
Andrea Gregori juggles her multiple roles — from Jekyll’s manservant to a prostitute whom Hyde brutally murders — without missing a beat. One of her best moments comes as a maid who witnesses another of Hyde’s murders in a park: “The good in me wanted to call out sooner; the bad in me wanted to watch.”
Chris Nickerson adds just the right touch of pompous vanity as Sir Danvers Carew, who locks horns with Jekyll with his bigoted, unscientific approach to medicine, but he also carries off smaller parts, such as a private investigator or police inspector, in proper character.
Lastly, James Wetzel shows great compassion and concern as Jekyll’s faithful friend, Utterson, as well as giving us a vicious Hyde in the opening scene.
The deadly cat-and-mouse game that develops between Jekyll and Hyde drives the plot to a dramatic finish, one that perfectly captures Jekyll’s realization that “I am not the master of my fate — I only dreamt I was.” In many ways, the good doctor, who admits “I was so lonely,” finds a caring relationship only when the beast within slips its leash.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reminds us that the real monsters aren’t underneath the bed; they’re looking straight at us in the mirror.
IF YOU GO: The Chenango River Theatre will present Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at its playhouse, 991 State Highway 12, Greene, through Oct. 23. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $27. The best way to order tickets is to go to CRT’s website www.chenangorivertheatre.org. You also can call the box office at 607-656-8499 or email email@example.com.