Last night, I headed to the Papermill Theatre to see Amicus Productions’ Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson novella by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by Harvey Levkoe. Not to be confused with the musical version that has also been playing in Toronto recently.
Dr. Jekyll (Christopher Irving) is man driven to find a way through that door of the mind that leads to man’s baser, primal nature – the dark side of his personality – to study it in order to ultimately control it. What he doesn’t count on is his own dark side becoming physically manifest, to the point that a very different man emerges, bursting forth and wrecking havoc in the city, engaging in every form of debauchery – even to the point of torturing, maiming and murdering. And even when Jekyll realizes what is happening, he is somehow able to dissociate those evil actions – they were done by someone else: Mr. Hyde (played by a mini-ensemble of four multi-tasking actors: Chris Coculuzzi, Stephen Flett, Derek Perks and Jenn Sellers). As we are warned during a medical school lecture: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Of course, it all ends very badly for the “good” doctor.
Wayne Cardinalli’s minimalist set design is incredibly effective. The central set piece, the rotating door – red on the side facing the street and steel blue grey on the inside – is a perfect realization of that door into the mind that Jekyll is so keen to unlock. Another key piece is a wooden table on castors: an examining table, displaying corpses for medical students in one scene, later becoming the bed at the hotel Jekyll checks into and where he meets Elizabeth (Stephanie Barone), the woman Hyde loves. Orderlies/servants played by assistant stage managers Kristin Myers and Jamie Zhuravel, along with the cast, shift the set pieces and furniture, changing the scenes with choreographed precision.
The use of four Hydes is particularly interesting – and the four actors, including one woman, each bring different colours to the character. Coculuzzi, the Hyde who falls in love with Elizabeth, is a wounded animal, instinct pushing him to lash out, but finding peace and calm in a woman’s love. Flett is menacing as the rough and course Hyde, while Perks finds his diabolical side and Sellers the smooth, charming tones. And Irving gets a chance to find the savagery in Jekyll, as the lines between him and Hyde blur near the end of the play and he can no longer distinguish between his “good” and “bad” self.
Levkoe has an excellent cast to take us on this trip, which also features Coculuzzi’s daughter Cabiria Aquarius as the Little Girl. Barone is brave and tender as Elizabeth, seeing beyond the surface of Hyde’s brutality into his pain, as well as Jekyll’s torment. Coculuzzi (also Dr. H.K. Lanyon) and Flett (as lawyer Gabriel Utterson) do a nice job of switching back and forth from their respective Hydes to supportive friends of Jekyll. Perks and Sellers do a great job of juggling mini-casts of their own, with Sellers playing male and female characters, including Jekyll’s servant Poole and one of the Hydes, and Perks shifting from arrogant surgeon Sir Danvers Carew to a wry-witted private investigator and Hyde, among others.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a chilling, compelling – at times darkly funny – journey into the dark side of the mind. As bad as you know it’s going to get, you can’t help but be fascinated by this story. And the four Hydes on the stage, shifting in and out from other characters, remind us of the potential for cruelty that lies within all of us.
You have a few more chances to see this – it runs until this Saturday (November 24), with matinée and evening performances on Saturday. Click here for more info: http://www.amicusproductions.ca/current_season.php#jekyll