There’s an inherent danger in adapting a piece of literature that’s as ingrained in the zeitgeist as Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” yet this production doesn’t shy away from making major changes. Sure, people know that there’s a guy who’s also another guy, and that other guy kills people while the main guy is a doctor of some repute. Blah, blah, blah; we’ve heard it all before. Or, as this piece may ask us, have we? UNO Theatre will posit that this story isn’t as cut and dry as it may seem.
In 19th century London, a well-off physician named Henry Jekyll (Jacob Peacock) is best on all sides. In the “real” world, he battles wits with respected medical professor Sir Danvers Carew (Charleen Willoughby) on the epistemology of the medicine of the day. However, in his mind, he fights the urges of Mr. Edward Hyde’s Body (Seth Wichman), Mind (Max Monahan), Heart (Nicole O’Brien), and Spirit (Kenya Leon). Try as he might, Jekyll can’t always defeat these urges and at times some (or all) of these urges are manifested through the vessel of Jekyll. Through this the Hydes do as they wish, partaking in debauchery, murder and other forms of dubious action. When Hyde’s Heart yearns for a hotel maid, Elizabeth (Emilie Rothanzl), Jekyll sees it fit to save Elizabeth from the other aspects of Hyde. All the while, colleagues Utterson (Adam Rutherford), Lanyon (Cordarrell Spears) and servant Poole (Erin Weidenhamer) look into Jekyll’s erratic actions with much suspicion. Can Hyde be their own person, or must Jekyll try to kill that part of him that poses a threat to everyone he holds dear?
This is a show that is as atmospheric as it gets. With the set adorned with windows and doors aplenty, the ideas of psyche and the nature of the soul are very much in the foreground as much as they create the background. The lighting of this show can be at times almost blinding, and oppressively dark and dank. This moody, gothic-esque architecture lends a credence that this is a show that looks to deconstruct in more ways than just on the dissection table. The Hydes have just as much charisma and whimsy as they do menace, and at times can steal the show in the best of ways. To point out particular performances is difficult, but I must give my flowers to Nicole O’Brien as Heart Hyde and Jacob Peacock as Jekyll really make the show what it is, in my mind. This idea of the monstrous being just as able to love as the reasonable are capable of torment is a powerful dynamic that really takes the show to the next level. I would also be remiss not to mention the shadow-puppetry work being done by the cast and Maggie Wadginski. Everyone related to this production should be immensely proud of the work that was done here.
If you are a UNO student, then you get to see this magnificent production for free. It runs from Oct. 5-8 and Oct. 11-13. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. except for a matinee performance at 2:00 p.m. on the 8th.
I’m telling you this now: you’ll regret missing out on such a piece of excellent theatre.