Encore Michigan

ESR’s Jekyll & Hyde transforms Port Huron

Review October 13, 2019 Paula Bradley

PORT HURON, Mich.–One of the most enduring categories of classic tales is that of gothic horror, and for good reason.  The best among them combine gripping psychological tension with macabre, sinister or evil behavior; even though physical violence may be present, a good plot needs no reliance on gore to disturb or shock its audience. 

Thus explains the perpetual popularity of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of a Victorian-era doctor’s experiment on himself to isolate his darker nature into a physically separate person.  Enter Stage Right uses a stage adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher to bring the creep factor to The Citadel Stage in Port Huron.

As the show opens, we learn that Dr. Henry Jekyll (Daniel Williams) has already been secretly conducting his self-treatment for a year. He is gratified that he has discovered a way to “banish ill-temper” into the person of Edward Hyde, into whom Jekyll physically transforms himself with a concocted potion, and replace said ill-temper with peace and serenity. Jekyll uses Hyde to give in to baser human urges and vices, and to commit all manner of violent acts, without suffering the guilt himself.

It seems a very convenient relationship, as long as Jekyll has the power to control the transformations back and forth.  But when the transformations begin to occur spontaneously, and Hyde’s personality starts to exhibit some control over Jekyll’s situation, the road down the path to destruction seems inevitable.

This stage adaptation (like many versions preceding it) includes a few characters that do not appear in Stevenson’s original story; one such character is Elizabeth (Kirsten Rams), a young woman who is not only undeterred by Hyde’s disturbing behavior, but actually falls in love with him. Hyde (Steven Potter) appears to be able to channel his violent urges away from Elizabeth as a way of returning her feelings.  Once can speculate about what makes Hyde experience love; perhaps it is the fact that Elizabeth is the first woman to not recoil from him in horror, or perhaps it is a bit of Jekyll’s peaceful sensibility leaking into Hyde’s persona. 

Jekyll’s reaction to the discovery that Hyde has a love interest is where the real conflict between the two personalities becomes apparent. This conflict comes to a climax when Jekyll realizes that he is indeed under suspicion for Hyde’s crimes, and must make a choice to end the cycle.

The themes are numerous, going beyond the obvious good vs. evil.  Dr. Jekyll early on opines to a colleague about the difference between what one “can do” versus what one “should do.”  The former, he claims, is determined by learning and the latter by character.  He learns too late that the lines between them are not at all clear.  There is also the idea that the different sides of one’s nature can be compartmentalized and dealt with independently, as opposed to admitting that every person is a synthesis of different (sometimes conflicting) motivations, desires and choices.

Hatcher’s script calls for multiple actors to portray Hyde, each representing different manifestations of his dark nature.  Director Regina Spain visually depicts all the iterations of Hyde continually lurking nearby even when they are not featured in a scene, in a nod to the idea that different aspects of the personality cannot easily be compartmentalized. This artistic decision adds another layer to the creepy undertone of the show. Another directorial choice is to use somewhat jarring spotlight and sound effects (Brian Spain) during scene transitions, which feels consistent with the fracturing of Jekyll’s psyche as he struggles with Hyde.

There are individual performances which are intensely satisfying, conveying the right combination of tension, unnerving drama and plausibility.  One such performance is Daniel Williams as Dr. Jekyll, who begins the show as a Jekyll who is confident in the success of his experiment but ends as a Jekyll who resorts to drastic measures to prevent his complete slide into darkness.  Steven Potter also gives a convincingly sinister portrait as the most prominent of the many Hydes; his muscular tics and twitches, his repeated sudden outbursts and his delight in derailing Jekyll combine for an utterly disturbing performance.

Even though language is mild and scenes of violence are not explicitly bloody, there are dark themes in this show that may not be appropriate for younger audiences.  It is abundantly sufficient, however, to satisfy those looking for a psychologically frightening experience in the eerie atmosphere of autumn. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is playing at The Citadel in Port Huron through October 27, 2019.