Encore Michigan

Slipstream takes on ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ in an update of the classic

Review February 20, 2017 Martin F. Kohn

FERNDALE, Mich.–In my city, perhaps statewide, if you tear down your house and build a new one on the same site your property tax will increase accordingly. But if you leave one wall of the old house standing as part of the new one your property tax won’t go up so much.

It has nothing to with taxes, but this is the approach that Slipstream Theatre Initiative takes to the classics: leave one wall standing and build something more modern, more suited to contemporary sensibilities. Shakespeare, Chekhov, Aristophanes, Oscar Wilde – all are undergoing renovations this season. Call it mainstream Slipstream.

Currently it’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s turn as the artists at Slipstream present the gripping, provocative Dr. Heidi Jekyll, reimagining the split-personality protagonist of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” as a woman. She’s the head of research and development at a pharmaceutical corporation instead of the solitary experimenter of Stevenson’s 1886 tale, and the drug that unleashes the doctor’s inner demon isn’t something she concocted in her laboratory. Her name is Heidi and she’s an alcoholic.

That’s certainly relatable. Everyone is familiar with alcohol abusers; few of us know any reckless scientists. So, score one for director Luna Alexander and assistant director Victoria Rose Weatherspoon who collaborated on the script. In their version, Dr. Jekyll is under tremendous pressure at work, and beneath her dowdy look and introverted nature lie the hidden drives manifested in the sexy Ms. Hyde.

The playwright/directors take the wise step of having both characters onstage at the same time, and the even wiser step of casting Mandy Logsdon and Laura Heikkinen as Jekyll and Hyde, respectively. They couldn’t behave more differently and yet they connect.

The two sometimes converse, but they say even more when Logsdon, keeping a tight rein on her character, interacts with others (or speaks to the audience at her AA meetings), while Heikkinen behind her in semi-darkness, stuck and restless in the breakfast nook, writhes and wriggles in her chair and drapes herself all over the kitchen table, lasciviousness personified waiting to break free. If only that were the sum total of Ms. Hyde’s vices.

Costume designer Tiaja Sabrie has given Ms. Hyde a torn shirt that keeps slipping off her shoulder, a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen, but Heikinnen, herself a costume designer, deftly shrugs her way back.

The play misfires when it comes to the half-dozen male characters, all played by Ryan Ernst and Steven Xander Carson. Some of their relationships are murky and confusing, through no fault of the actors.

“Dr. Heidi Jekyll” puts a contemporary spin on this archetypal exploration of the duality of human nature, even suggesting reasons for Dr, Jekyll’s split and implying that none of us should consider ourselves immune.

As one of the male characters says, “We’ve all got shit buried in the Dumpster.” Not quite the equal of Stevenson’s elegant prose but it gets the point across.

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Week of 12/9/2019

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