Ever since The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson's dense novella about dual personality and the nature of good and evil has been oft adapted to stage and film. But I've never seen a stranger adaption than Jeffrey Hatcher's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. In his desire to bring a new spin to this familiar tale about the decline and fall of the decent Dr. Henry Jekyll, who is done in by the dark desires of his own soul, Hatcher parses out the role of Jekyll's demonic alter ego, the brutish Edward Hyde, to four different members of the six-actor cast.
What might have seemed an intriguing idea in the abstract instead plays out as irritating and misguided. At its core, this is a story about transformation. To deny the actor playing Jekyll (Anthony Marble) the opportunity to experience that transformation is to lobotomize the core of the character. In lieu of theatricality, Hatcher's script prefers to talk the good doctor to death. (Is Act Two really only 36 minutes long?) Hatcher's literary conceit plays out at the expense of any sense of humanity. Indeed, Hyde's disembodied voice began to remind me of HAL the Computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nor is the production helped by Edward Stern's oppressive staging, which actually emphasizes the play's verbosity.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the final production of the Rep's eleven-play season, must be written off as a lost two hours. At the same time, I hasten to add that this has been, unquestionably, the strongest season the Rep has mounted in the eight years I've been reviewing its productions. Off-Ramp's outrageous Lieutenant of Inishmore and the electrifying Studio production of Blackbird were thoroughly realized. For both productions, artistic director Steven Woolf brought in outside directors, new to the Rep but familiar with the plays; those imports paid off handsomely. Though I was not as taken with Off-Ramp's The Little Dog Laughed as were many others, director Rob Ruggiero brought his customary sense of flair and subterfuge to that thin material. And Erika Rolfsrud's delicious star turn as an acerbic Hollywood agent was one of the must-see high points of this or any other year. Another delightfully droll performance is being rendered through this weekend by Neva Rae Powers as the tone-deaf Florence Foster Jenkins in the charming Studio staging of Souvenir.
If the main stage productions were not as fully satisfying as those in the Studio and Off-Ramp series, still there were impassioned performances by Mark Setlock as the genial narrator of This Wonderful Life and Tarah Flanagan as Joan of Arc in Saint Joan. Again, both productions were exceedingly well directed. It matters little that I was unimpressed by the Rep's staging of Frost/Nixon or that Emma already is but a dim memory. No theater company that stages eleven productions in one season can be all things to all people. The point is that in terms of execution, theatergoers were the beneficiaries of a rock-solid season. In the past I've not been shy about criticizing the Rep when I did not think the company met its potential. When they excel, they deserve recognition, praise and support.
In Robert Louis Stevenson's fantastical novella about Jekyll and Hyde, evil proves more compelling than good. Theater doesn't usually work that way. More often than not, memories of the good far outlast the bad. Productions like Inishmore and Blackbird, and artists like Flanagan, Rolfsrud and so many others, are sure to remain vivid long after this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a distant blur.