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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Walk on the Wild Side with
Chemical Imbalance

Also see Richard's reviews of Bingo, After the War and Private Lives

Chemical Imbalance
Gabriel Diamond and Ben Dziuba
The Precarious Theatre Company has pulled out all the stops in presenting an original comedy of horrors based on Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Lauren Wilson's Chemical Imbalance is an ingenious two-act farce with a touch of the Grand Guignol style of acting at the end.

The Jekyll and Hyde tale has been told numerous times, on film dating from the silent period. On stage, the Royal Shakespeare Company mounted an extravagant production several years ago in London, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival did a fine version last year, and composer Frank Wildhorn got into the act with his musical Jekyll & Hyde. It was bound to happen that a company would present a wild version of the man experimenting with good and evil.

Chemical Imbalance is a stimulating horror farce with some great "over the top" melodramatic acting. Matthew Graham Smith's direction is vibrantly conceived and the production moves along briskly during its two hours and 10 minutes on the intimate stage of the Exit Theatre on Taylor Street in San Francisco.

The play has some fantastic zany characters played by talented performers. Outstanding is Christian Cagigal playing Lady Throckmortonshire in drag. His acting and vocalizing result in a cross between Tallulah Bankhead and Kathleen Turner with a dash of Edith Evans. In the second act, when he accidentally drinks Jekyll's evil potion, he becomes a side-splitting Mrs. Hyde. Also in drag is Andrew Calabrese as Jekyll's mother, and he's a real hoot trying to play the role straight.

Gabriel Diamond is wonderful playing both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He moves with ease from pedantic and proper to untamed and demented. His performance in the second act, when he is constantly changing from good to evil, is hilarious. When he is walking on the wild side, he looks like John Barrymore in the silent version of the classic and he has a voice like Boris Karloff on steroids.

Hannah Knapp as Rosamunda Dewthistle, who is desperately trying to marry Dr. Jekyll, is a pure delight. She plays it like a character in an old fashioned Victorian melodrama. Nicole Lungerhausen, with her flux Scottish accent, is a scream really going overboard as the feisty Scottish servant Plodgett. Sarah Meyeroff as the English parlor maid Ivy is a lovely counterpoint to Plodgett's shenanigans. Erin Carter gives a very good, staid performance as Ambrosia Jekyll and camps it up as Constable O'Malley. Ben Dziuba in dual roles as Dr. Jekyll's friend Xavier and the Police Lieutenant gives first-rate performances with his Mayfair accent. Elizabeth Bullard plays the both the good child Penelope Throckmortonshire and her evil twin Calliope Throckmortonshire. While playing the good twin she has a squeaky voice like Minnie Mouse and while playing the "bad seed" her voice changes to one like Patty McCormick's in The Bad Seed.

Janice Koprowski's Victorian costumes for the women are outlandish. When Christian Cagigal as Lady Throckmortonshire enters for the first time, he is wearing a large hat that looks like cream being poured over strawberries. He wears a red Victorian outfit in the second act that could have come from a Victorian bordello. Lighting designer David Robertson has created sinister shadows and effects, especially when Jekyll is first drinking the colorful potion.

Chemical Imbalance played through April 7th at the The Exit Theatre located at 156 Eddy Street at Taylor in San Francisco. For more information, visit www.precarioustheatre.com.


Photo: Stephanie Temple


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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