A local director has been talking to me recently about a Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde project for this fall at the Hooker-Dunham. He isn’t interested in a conventional melodrama, but in using Jekyll and Hyde as a jumping off point for exploration.
The beauty part of Jekyll/Hyde is of course its greatest challenge: it is utterly familiar to everyone. We’re not in the realm of work, as was Jean Genet’s The Maids production we did last year, known primarily by theater aficionados, but a world that’s, if anything, utterly familiar to everyone. When I asked my sons to tell we the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they all knew instantly. When I asked them where they learned the story, they certainly hadn’t read Robert Louis Stephenson’s (yes, the author of Treasure Island) novella. When pressed, they remembered Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny cartoons, but the impression was indelible.
I have no idea, at this point, of the specific direction the director wants to take the production, but the concept started me thinking. So I’ve decided to share my thoughts here just as a way of starting a conversation, and, possibly, being of interest to others in other settings who might be looking for an interesting project. Jekyll and Hyde has the great advantage, from a community theater perspective, of being in the public domain, removing the hurdle of getting rights and, very often, being bound to copyright restrictions about how one puts the show together.
Everyone knows the basic story: Dr. Jekyll (people are often confused on who’s the “evil” one; Jekyll, despite his “beastly” name, is the doctor-scientist, while Mr. Hyde is his hideous “other self.” The “correct” pronunciation is apparently JEE-kyl, btw.) endeavors to separate good and evil parts of himself into separate beings. He develops and drinks a potion that turns him into the horrifying Mr. Hyde. The same potion transforms him back to Dr. Jekyll. In typical morality play fashion, catastrophe ensues and ultimately Jekyll/Hyde must die.
But, since every re-telling of Jekyll and Hyde is different, we can go anywhere we want with the story. So while the audience knows everything, ideally it begins to realize that it knows nothing, that this re-telling of story is in our hands now. That opens some very exciting possibilities. I’ve started sketching out some imagined scenes. Regardless of where we go with this “production,” the process is fascinating.
More to come…