Black Box Theater: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
One of the most alluring possibilities in using a black box theater like the Hooker-Dunham is creating a production from the ground up. It’s “minimalistic” set-up, a small stage framed by either thick black drapes or, if the drapes are open, stone slabs and bricks. As I write, we’re trying to do that, starting from the Robert Louis Stevenson novella (yes, the author of the Disney-ized, i.e. sanitized Treasure Island!.).
Josh Moyse is developing an entirely new rendition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I say “rendition” rather than “adaptation.” We are paying great heed to the iconic story of the doctor who took a potion that transformed him into all that was evil inside of him, all that was instinctual, and all that was vile, despicable.
Most people cannot think of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde without conjuring up images of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, or Heckle and Jeckle. It is engrained in the cultural heritage of many cultures and is, perhaps, universal: The divide that sometimes can feel so deeply embedded in our nature between the will to be good and beneficial to others and the will do whatever the heck on wants. If that includes doing harm to others (and what else is that axe raised over your head in anticipation there for?) a line is crossed that no one can abide.
Theater has the wonderful ability, not unlike a really good roller-coaster ride or anything else that’s scary at first but you’re really glad you did it, to allow us to feel fear and see evil and, at the same moment, to feel safe. The homicidal maniac on the stage is not going to come and actually attack us in our seats.
So here is a simple space in which to build a world of claustrophobic nightmare. Because that’s what Jekyll and Hyde is, a nightmare, in which the truth is horrible to behold). (Hyde complains: “Why does it always have to be Jekyll and Hyde? Why can’t it be, at least some of the time, Hyde and Jekyll. I know, it sounds like a law firm, but it still would be more fair.”) A nightmare. Jekyll goes too far and terrible things happen. Man crosses a boundary he should not cross.
(It occurs to me that this is not unlike the central question of Copenhagen, that just finished a wonderful four-week run at ATP in West Chesterfield. In our infinite quest to know but also in our fear of other humans and desire to be able to destroy them before they destroy us, we have delved inside the atom, and found a way to unlock its energy.)
Dr. Jekyll is toying with the laws of the universe. He is Edward Teller ( “father” of the hydrogen bomb). He is Faust Robert Johnson at the crossroads, making his pact with the devil. Or Robespierre, chopping off the head of the king, and so, according to some psycho-historians, killing God and kill Father. He is poor Oedipus — except that Oedipus had no idea what he was doing while Dr. Jekyll is trying to do what actually happens.
The point is that working with the novella means exploring some very interesting terrain.
Here are some ideas that have crossed my mind. (Whether any of them will seep into our production remains to be seen.)