The story of "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" has fascinated Harlequin Productions' Scot Whitney since he was in fourth grade.
But Whitney, who heard of the story from a classmate, was disappointed when he saw the Frederic March film a few years later.
“It’s just good and evil,” said Whitney, Harlequin’s managing artistic director. “Hyde is evil, and Jekyll is good, and that’s not the way people are. It just didn’t make sense to me, even at that age.”
It’s fitting then, that the “Jekyll” Whitney is directing for Harlequin is anything but good versus evil. This production of a 2008 adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher features four Hydes, played by actors of various types, ages and even genders – one is a woman.
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“It’s this writhing, complex study in gray,” he said. “It’s a chase down the narrow alley of a man’s soul.”
In fact, the playwright intended to get away from any black-and-white interpretations.
“I think it’s more about the stifling of parts of one’s own personality,” Hatcher told the Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen in a 2008 interview. “Victorian England was obsessed with the suppression of desire, the suppression of any appearance of weakness. We are used to thinking of Hyde as the bad-boy side of milquetoast Dr. Jekyll. But I believe Jekyll is not really the person he wants to be.”
In Hatcher’s take on the story, those parts are popping out all over. Sometimes, all four Hydes share the stage.
Five of the six actors – Jekyll and the four Hydes – wear identical costumes. They become different characters with the help of accessories and props.
“The actors use very simple elements along with dialect, physicality and voice to become these different characters,” Whitney said. “One character has a monocle; one character has a Scottish tartan scarf; one character has a big jeweled ring and a gray silk scarf.
“The Hydes all have low top hats and canes with silver handles.”
As the costumes would suggest, the production is set in the Victorian era, yet it also transcends that era.
“There’s a sense of melodrama to it, and yet it’s not cornball,” Whitney said. “It’s funny. There’s also a very modern feel to the issues that are being dealt with.”
It’s also “pretty creepy,” he said. “There’s a murder in it, and a lot of the tech people are saying, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m going to be watching this every night.’ ”
And there’s romance – not for Jekyll, but for Hyde.
“It humanizes the monster,” Whitney said. “Jekyll becomes jealous and he becomes more and more cruel. His addiction becomes a bigger deal.
“It’s no longer good and evil. It’s: Can you define good and evil? Where does the evil end and the good begin?”
“I could never accept the idea that Jekyll was all good and Hyde was all bad, nothing but a twisted monster,” Hatcher told the Citizen. “Or the idea that Jekyll and Hyde are ashamed of each other.
“Instead, I started thinking, ‘What if they played a chess game with each other?’ ”