Theater Review: DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (North Coast Repertory Theatre)

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by Dan Zeff on October 23, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


In 1886, Robert Lewis Stevenson’s short novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in London. The story has become one of the most popular in English language literature, dealing with an upper-class English scientist who manages to split his personality between good and evil, with turbulent results.

Ciarra Stroud and Conner Marx

About 125 literary adaptations of Stevenson’s original have been created over the decades, along with dozens of stage versions hundreds of movie and audio versions, and even video games. The North Coast Repertory Theatre is now staging Jeffrey Hatcher‘s 2008 adaptation, the title shortened to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dramatized versions generally fall into categories that emphasize horror, special effects, or psychological suspense. This one samples all three categories, plus adding a small injection of humor, possibly unintentionally.

Bruce Turk

As with Stevenson, Hatcher sets his play in the late Victorian days. Under Shana Wride‘s direction, Marty Burnett‘s set design has almost no scenery, the story’s visuals confined mostly to Elisa Benzoni‘s excellent Victorian-era costumes, a few furniture props moved around and on and off the stage, and atmospheric lighting and silhouettes by Erik Montierth and Marty Novatny that reflect the revival’s somber narrative. The first act isn’t clear on what’s happening action-wise. But that may not be a great liability, most viewers are at least basically familiar with the basics of the famous plot ahead of time. Still, rotating the villainous Edward Hyde through four of the six cast members, one of them a woman, could confuse some patrons.

Katie MacNichol, Christopher M. Williams, Conner Marx, Jacob Bruce, Bruce Turk

The core character of the play is Henry Jekyll, a much admired English scientist who is fixated on his belief that the mind is divided into good and evil. Hyde believes that by isolating and eliminating evil from the human personality, he will be making the world a better place. He develops a serum that does just that. The potion sometimes establishes the man into the good Jekyll known and loved by the outside world. Other times he lapses into the evil Hyde, cruel, sensual, and violent. Hyde’s nasty side increasingly takes control of Jekyll and soon all hell breaks loose.

Conner Marx, Jacob Bruce, Katie MacNichol

By the end of the first act, I was ready to pack it in. The play wasn’t scary, didn’t offer special effects showing Jekyll turning into Hyde in front of our eyes, and didn’t probe moral issues of good and evil the playwright raised. The production does right itself in the second act with welcome infusions of suspense, mock violence, and a final showdown between Jekyll and Hyde. The good guy doesn’t come out so well, but bad guys are always more entertaining and interesting on stage.

Christopher M. Williams, Jacob Bruce, Bruce Turk,
Katie MacNichol, Conner Marx

The cast does what it can do with the storyline in its present state. I enjoyed Bruce Turk as the positive Henry Jekyll. But we could use more backstory about Jekyll’s preoccupation with the profundities of good and villainy, especially in the meandering first act. Connor Marx is a creepy Hyde, and he and Turk pump a satisfying flow of brutality into the show’s final minutes. The ensemble is satisfactorily rounded out by Katie MacNichol, Jacob Bruce, Ciarra Stroud, and Christopher M. Williams in multiple roles.

My very faint praise obviously was not shared by the large matinee audience. Many customers gave the cast a standing ovation at the curtain call, though such ovations have become an audience ritual in recent times.

photos by Aaron Rumley

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach
Wed and Thurs at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on November 12, 2023 EXTENDED to November 19, 2023
for tickets ($49 – $74), call 858.481.1055 or visit North Coast Rep

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