You can barely make out a Victorian London skyline for some of the best theatrical fog I’ve experienced. Burt Grinstead’s dramatic, sometimes tongue-in-cheek-cliché Music and Sound Design, from night wind and carriages on cobbles to Big Ben, is swell. Lighting by Carter Ford follows suit in cinematic color. Expectations rise.
A man (Burt Grinstead/Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) and woman (Ann Stromberg/everyone else) are among those watching a public hanging. She’s bloodthirsty, excited. He, Dr. Jekyll, is horrified. The convicted murderer is his certifiably insane brother. Not a bad way to set context of the scientific experiments the protagonist will then pursue. (Conceit of a brother is new.) Unfortunately, Stromberg is so fast, loud, and over the top, we wince for the wrong reasons.
Dr. Jekyll presents his theories in search of backing. He hypothesizes that if sources of good and evil in the brain can be identified, manipulation is possible. Man might be rid of destructive proclivity and possibly madness. Interruptions of his speech by different characters is overdone. Ideas are dismissed with the admonition the doctor shouldn’t play God. (Shades of objection to genetic engineering.)
The distinguished host’s daughter, Sarah, sets her cap for Dr. Jekyll. Among the many roles Stromberg plays, except for the caveat below, Sarah is the most real. She’s believably soft, well spoken, good natured, and naïve.
You know the story. Chemicals are secured, mixed, and personally imbibed creating Edward Hyde, the depraved side of Dr. Jekyll’s character. Hyde runs amok committing several murders. Poole suspiciously copes with the stranger’s erratic comings and goings.
Transformation is achieved entertainingly with top hat, cane, messed hair, wild eyes, and guttural sounds. Grinstead bends at angles, swiftly leaping about the theater (and its seats), startling audience members, and chortling. The actor also credibly personifies the fight for Dr. Jekyll’s soul.
Edward Hyde revels in the freedom he doesn’t have as Dr. Jekyll. The scientist struggles. Poole, the conscience of this interpretation, tells her boss he shouldn’t have been experimenting with the brain, but rather the heart. Hyde wins.
With plot shuffled to play forward instead of, as the book, looking back, this brief version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel manages to capture both the story’s intention and its gothic nature.
Perhaps in an effort to give actors equal time and because it’s a two-hander the piece is somewhat choppy. I don’t for a moment buy the doctor’s maid, Poole, getting personal and love interest Sarah’s sexual aggression would be anathema to her class. Otherwise tone is solid.
Production is loosey goosey, gaining momentum as it proceeds. Let go of uptown comparisons and you may have fun.
As Director, Stromberg has no perspective on her own accents, upstaging, or scenery chewing. If someone else had the helm…
Cooper Bates Photography
The Blanketfort Production of
Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde
by Burt Grinstead & Anna Stromberg
Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Directed by Anna Stromberg
15 Vandam Street Through May 26, 2019