There are few things that compare with the pleasure and terror of opening nights. Will one’s mind go blank in the middle of a line? Will anyone show up to see the show? Will they laugh at the parts the ensemble thinks funny and be properly scared by the more thrilling moments? It’s like being on the roller coaster as it heads up and up and still more up before reaching its crest and letting loose. Nothing for it but to hold the safety bar and hope you enjoy the ride! Except there is no safety bar.
Jekyll and Hyde, which we opened last night, somehow makes me think of President Jimmy Carter. Remember his peanut-grower’s smiling face? He usually smiled. Carter is infamous for saying something to the effect of “I lusted in my heart.” The actual quote is “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” per the Top Ten Unfortunate Political One-Liners of Time Magazine, but “I lusted in my heart,” sums it all up well enough. Carter’s only problem was the he was President of the US (admittedly a pretty bad problem to have!), ‘cause everybody lusts in their heart sometimes.
So Dr. Jekyll’s problem is not so unique, even if his “scientific” solution of devising a potion to separate his “good” and “bad” sides is a bit extreme. Like most myths, the difference between Jekyll/Hyde and us “normal” people is only a matter of degree. By exaggerating a “normal” condition, J&H brings that condition into focus. This is why I love the line, toward the end of the play where my character, Mr. Utterson, says, “It is the curse of mankind that these incongruous personas are bound together in an agonized womb of consciousness.” Anyone who has any insight into themselves at all recognizes that there are aspects of our personality that are incompatible with each other.
Don’t we all struggle to reconcile “incongruous” aspects of ourselves? The wish to be brave and daring and the pull to hide in the corner? Lust and moral rectitude? Hatred and benevolence? And doesn’t most of humanity share with Dr. Jekyll the curiosity that drives us to tinker with the very building blocks of nature? Most of us are openly fascinated with the unraveling of the genetic code. Most of us are similarly fascinated with the unlocking of the enormous power inside the atom even as we may decry it’s use against people and the dangers of trying to supply our energy needs through such potentially catastrophic means.
So it is a great pleasure for me to play the role of the Everyman in this dramatization of what is a natural human conundrum. How can we reconcile conscience with licentiousness? Not easily, is the short answer. To our peril if we try to find a way around our inner contradictions is the moral. But it strikes me that Dr. Jekyll, even to the end, regrets most that he didn’t quite get the formula right, that he is doomed only because his potion was not quite correct.
Like Dr. Jekyll, is humanity still tinkering with the formula? Trying to find ways to have it all for ourselves and still hold our head hight in moral superiority? Seems to me there’s an awful lot of that going on all over the globe. And we all fear catastrophe may lie around the corner.