On the Side of the Angels: NKU’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”
by Alan Jozwiak
“Is that our standard? No one murdered yet, so [Mr. Hyde’s] still on the side of the angels?”
These lines in NKU’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, spoken by the lawyer Gabriel Utterson (Jordan Whittaker) talking to his friend Dr. Jekyll (Hunter Broyles) about the increasingly erratic behavior of Jekyll’s “friend” Mr. Hyde (Mark Schutzman), is a nice starting point for discussing the latest NKU theatre production, the 2008 Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson work “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
Unlike the 1990 musical based on the same material, the Hatcher play takes a more sophisticated view of the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and his alter-ego Mr. Hyde. Instead of seeing both characters as either wholly good and wholly evil, Hatcher allows that each personality to side with both the angels and demons, having a mixture of good and bad elements. In an interview, Hatcher states this approach allows the possibility of a cat-and-mouse chase between the two characters. Part of the excitement of the second half of the play is seeing how that cat-and-mouse game pans out.
Director Michael Hatton builds on this complexity by having the two characters engage in a contest of wills. Dr. Jekyll tries everything he can to keep his alter ego from running amok. Heightening the troublesome nature of squelching Hyde is that this production has practically the entire ensemble form an Edward Hyde chorus which alternately speak Hyde’s lines. Hatton’s approach to direction is to let the characters lead the storytelling and that approach works out beautifully in this play. Hatton leaves the fancier staging for the Hyde chorus where it plays to great effect, although the totality of voices sometimes overwhelms Jekyll when he confronts his nemesis.
Hunter Broyles plays Dr. Jekyll with a fair amount of reserve mixed with intellectual arrogance. Broyles can get self-righteously haughty as he tears apart the carefully constructed post-mortem examination of Sir Danvers Carew (executed with great pomposity by James Pinkley), turning to despair while confronting what Hyde has done, and finally turning murderous when confronting Dr. H.K. Lanyon (also played by Mark Schutzman). He balances all of these states beautifully in order to reveal the inner torment of the “good” doctor.
The actor who inhabits Edward Hyde the most in this play is Mark Schutzman. Schutzman does a great job portraying the sinister creepiness of Hyde, while also giving the character glimpses of humanity. You cringe as Schutzman smirks and taunts Jekyll, but then feel for him as Jekyll threatens the woman Hyde cares for, Elizabeth Jelkes (Lexie Woodruff). It is an impressive feat to balance those elements and I think I might have nightmare of Schutzman strutting around the stage taunting Dr. Jekyll. He was that creepy.
This show is presented in the Stauss Theatre, therefore the production is staged for theatre in the round. Scenic Designer Ron Show keeps the sets simple, while Lighting Designer Luke Eisner drapes the stage in layers of shadows and red lights—perfect for the macabre nature of the story. My only complaint with the staging is the moving double-door (meant to portray the two sides of Dr. Jekyll, as well as the two doors which each personality would use to go outside). Sometimes the double-door temporarily blocks some of the sight lines in ways that seem unnecessary.
This play runs 1 hour 40 minutes–without an intermission. While it is a bit of a slow boil to get to the climax, there are enough compelling scenes throughout to keep my interest. I am so glad I saw this production because this Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde has not been performed much in Cincinnati. It is a must-see for the Halloween season where ghouls and fiends are the order of the day. Also a must-see is the bulletin board by the box office explaining the inspiration for the story and book/movie/stage adaptation. It compliments what’s on stage.
NKU’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde runs October 27 to November 6, with performances running Thursday through Saturdays at 7:30 pm, and 2pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. There is also a Wednesday, November 2 performance at 7:30 pm. Click HERE to get tickets.