THEATRE

The two faces of adoration

The Jekyll-Hyde tale gets rich psychological treatment in a touring show

RANDAL McILROY January 15 1996
THEATRE

The two faces of adoration

The Jekyll-Hyde tale gets rich psychological treatment in a touring show

RANDAL McILROY January 15 1996

The two faces of adoration

THEATRE

The Jekyll-Hyde tale gets rich psychological treatment in a touring show

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE: A LOVE STORY By James W. Nichol Directed by Neil Munro

A skeptical friend is chatting with the brilliant Dr. Henry Jekyll, who believes that man’s evolution may be accelerated by science. “What is appropriate for a man’s ambition?” asks the friend, who objects on religious grounds to the concept of evolution. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the new drama by Stratford, Ont., playwright James W. Nichol playing at Winnipeg’s Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC), the question could just as well be: “What is appropriate for a man’s feelings?” As much as Nichol’s story puts a modern spin on the Robert Louis Stevenson tale, his drama deals with more elemental questions of desire, repression and violence. Stevenson himself might not approve of the telling, but he would appreciate the chilling undercurrent.

A co-production involving the MTC (where it runs until Jan. 27), Toronto’s Canadian

Stage Company (Feb. 15 to March 16), Theatre Cal gary (April 5 to 20) and The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company (May 2 to May 25), the play starts with Stevenson's basic premise. In Victorian Eng land, Jekyll (Les Carison) is fascinated by Darwin's theories and the idea that man can genetically im prove himself. The serum he concocts and tests on himself creates the dan gerous Edward Hyde. But where Stevenson's Hyde is the essence of evil, Nichol-whose 13 plays include an acclaimed stage version of Margaret Lau rence's The Stone Angelsees him as an explosive extension of the doctor's personality. This Hyde (David Storch) is more sin ister than monstrous. Played by stage and screen stalwart Carlson,

Jekyll is a haunted, ponderous man who tries to lose himself in work and a brothel. A widower, Jekyll is alternately negligent of and dangerously affectionate towards his teenage daughter, Melissa (Megan Leitch). Stage veteran Storch turns in a Hyde who is a much lighter character than Jekyll, a dandy who gives free rein to his feelings but becomes terrified when he cannot keep his more violent impulses in check. Both actors deliver measured, thoughtful performances as their characters illustrate the difficulty of integrating romantic love and desire.

Director Neil Munro and lighting designer Kevin Lamotte use shadows and light to compelling effect. Violence and passion alike happen behind a backlit scrim, creating eerie shadow plays. Blinding white light gushes from behind the cabinets in the laboratory. However, some parts of the play need work. The engaging opening debate about evolution leaps too quickly to Jekyll’s first taste of Hyde. At one point, while Jekyll is having a quiet moment with his daughter, Hyde bolts across the stage behind them, powerfully suggesting incestuous impulses. But the force of that image is reduced when Hyde does it twice more later in the play. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—A Love Story leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. But it is a measure of the play’s power that the bitter flavor lingers.

RANDAL McILROY