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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

ACT Theatre's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
a Strange Case Indeed

Also see David's reviews of Sunday in the Park With George and Breakin' Hearts and Takin' Names

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Bradford Farwell (center), David Pichette, Brandon Whitehead and Deborah Fialkow
Given ACT Theatre's impressive batting average over the past few seasons (The Women, Enchanted April, The Clean House, Becky's New Car, Souvenir and A Marvelous Party to name a few of their best) and my predilection for playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, I arrived at the company's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ready for a night of good fun and a few chills. But despite some solid performances, and a handsome production design, this J&H proves a curiously lifeless affair, indeed a strange case, given the source material.

Solid Seattle actor R. Hamilton Wright, who'd appeared as Jekyll in a production of the play elsewhere, manages to stage the show fairly successfully in the round, but his pacing, in act one especially, is plodding to say the least. Playwright Hatcher's conceit of having four actors (who also take on various other roles) portray Hyde independently and a few times in concert, sounds better than it comes off, a case of too many Hydes spoiling the stew, if you will. Interestingly, Bradford Farwell's increasingly unraveling Dr. J is actually more menacing here than any of the Mr. Hydes, game as the actors are. I think David Anthony Lewis' brusque Hyde may be the most successful at conveying both menace and underlying humanity, and Deborah Fialkow, with the least opportunity line-wise, creates a fascinating "Sister" Hyde, if you will. Brandon Whitehead and David Pichette do what they can with their Hydes, with Pichette in particular gamely snarling his way through the sort of villainous role he is so rarely offered, and certainly all four are commendable gliding in and out of their other roles as friends and foes of the good Dr. J. Sylvie Davidson is touching and direct as the working-class Elizabeth who makes the mistake of falling for Hyde. But all the doubling up of roles proves more of a distraction than an enhancement, and impedes the forward thrust of the tale. Hatcher freely adapts Robert Louis Stevenson's classic, notably using only one principal female character, but fails to improve upon it.

Matthew Smucker's scenic design is handsome and, with its numerous door frames hovering above the action (inexplicable though they may be) it is certainly novel, The Jekyll laboratory is well thought out, though not utilized too much in Hatcher's retelling of the tale. Rick Paulsen's lighting design is satisfactory, but Marcia Dixcy Jory's costumes, though right in period detail, aren't always as useful in the quick changes they need to support as they might have been. Brendan Patrick Hogan's sound design is menacingly jarring as required.

I wasn't a rampant fan of the long-running Broadway musical of Jekyll & Hyde as some were, but in all honesty, I'd be up for seeing that show again before returning to this one.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde plays at ACT through May 10th. For tickets or information call the box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David Edward Hughes



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