Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
City Lights Theater Company

George Psarras, Keith Marshall, Kendall Callaghan, Adam Magill, Lucy Littlewood, and Max Tachis
Robert Louis Stevenson's novella "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1886) has spawned seemingly countless movies (silent and sound), cartoons, TV specials, plays, and a major Broadway musical. The phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" can be heard almost daily as two opposite sides of one person are described in common parlance. The question might be raised why the stage needs yet another adaptation. City Lights Theater Company has found the answer with its engrossing adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a tale full of gripping intrigue, engaging mystery, forbidden love, and raw lust.

Upon meeting Dr. Henry Jekyll—a high-integrity, well-regarded medical school researcher and professor—we soon learn he has been experimenting in a hidden laboratory on how to separate the evil part of a man from the good, with the hope of eliminating the former forever. We begin to suspect that these experiments have not gone as planned and are in fact connected to various incidents both seen and reported of street violence that may or may not involve a Mr. Hyde, who is associated in some vague way with Dr. Jekyll. We watch this Hyde, as he wildly and angrily wanders the streets causing mayhem along the way, then meets and seems to fall in the spell of a hotel maid (Elizabeth Jenkins). His disappearances and Dr. Jekyll's appearances begin more and more to happen simultaneously before our eyes (and thankfully with no high tech hocus-pocus). As Dr. Jekyll comes to realize his nightmare-plagued, no-sleep nights may be more than just dreams, he confides to a friend, "You don't know what peace of mind is until you have been tortured by the opposite." When Dr. Jekyll finally decides it is time to end this increasingly dangerous and immoral experiment before it leads to further victims' demises, including probably his own, Mr. Hyde reacts like a trapped animal, angrily realizing, "I am not the master of my fate ... I only dreamt I was." The ensuing battle draws more innocents unknowingly into its folds with the tension and pace of horrifying events steadily mounting as the ultimate and inevitable showdown nears between this one man and his alter ego.

George Psarras brings to his initial Dr. Jekyll a serious intensity of purpose, an air of reserve, and a penchant for intellectual conversation over a brandy with colleagues. Yet he also convincingly demonstrates how his anger can suddenly erupt with viciousness when he halts a lecture over a woman's naked corpse by his somewhat slimy colleague, Dr. Carew. The further Dr. Jekyll falls into the abyss of his dangerous experiments and the ensuing war with Mr. Hyde, the darker, more desperate, and clearly mad he becomes in his whole being. Abrupt changes in mood turn his face and manners from aristocrat to a monster with his resemblance showing more and more the Hyde side of himself.

Mr. Hyde, in Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation, is played by three male actors and one female actor, allowing varying aspects of Dr. Jekyll's alter and disintegrating personality to emerge in full life. Through powerful direction by Mark Anderson Phillips, Mr. Psarras' Dr. Jekyll is clearly tortured and frightened by the simultaneous and warring voices in his head as the Hydes all cluster menacingly around him during his wavering on how much further to surrender to or fight the lustful and revengeful drives of his alter self. Adam Magill is particularly brilliant in his repeated appearances as a curly-headed, handsome Hyde who can somehow smile attractively and glare frightfully at the same time. This Hyde can one moment be tender and submissive to the handmaiden Elizabeth and then erupt in dangerous snarls and threats of a demon, only finally to beg her forgiveness with boyish looks. Among other parts Mr. Magill also portrays is the empathetic, insightful Dr. Lanyon, a psychologist who warns his friend Dr. Jekyll that the only way to break this ever-worsening cycle of personality shifts is institutionalization (a warning clearly not followed). The juxtaposition by this talented actor player of trusted advisor of the psyche and then monster of psychic breakdown is wonderful.

Other multiple-part playing picks up on the theme of the good and bad existing side by side in the world around us. Lucy Littlewood is the totally proper, always loyal servant to Dr. Jekyll who is convinced of his virtuosity to the end against mounting evidence to the opposite. She at other times is also a Hyde that is calculating, lurking, and steely evil in look and calmness. Keith C. Marshall splits effectively between the despicable but self-indignant Dr. Carew, a sleuth-for-hire engaged by Jekyll to track Hyde, an investigating officer of law, and yet another Hyde. Max Tachis' Hyde is one quick to lash out at any passerby that irks him, while his Utterson is a trusted friend and confidant of Dr. Jekyll. Matching the various Hydes with other often-contrasting parts and literally witnessing the splitting personality of Dr. Jekyll are unique aspects of this adaptation. Can an audience in the end recognize and name the various personalities of Hyde they have seen? Probably not as they all blend into one despicable character, namely Dr. Jekyll; and that is perhaps the whole point.

As a maid who has herself risen from a questionable past to a somewhat respectful profession, Elizabeth is fearlessly determined to win over her Hyde as a faithful lover. Kendell Callaghan combines tender luring of her desired, firm-jawed determination against all odds, and both a vulnerability and a send-caution-to-the-winds attitude as she portrays Elizabeth.

This complicated adaptation of over 25 scenes comes close to being too disjointed at times with many moves (perhaps too many) of doors, desks, and chairs on and off the stage. However, the saving grace is that the transitions are held together by the absolutely magnificent sound design of George Psarras. Deep chords of an organ, echoes of passing trains and horses, and period musical selections that bridge and blend but never intrude mask the movement of scenery before us. Coupled with a well-placed lighting design of Nick Kumamoto full of lurking shadows and effective projections on walls and floor, the auditory atmosphere brings 1883 London to full life in Ron Gasparinetti's scenes of locked doors, forbidding walls, and cracked skylight at dangerous slant.

For anyone who has at least some appetite for one more offering of the Jekyll/Hyde tale, City Lights Theater has found a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that should fit the bill with enough thrills, starts, and haunts to usher in style this Halloween season.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde continues at City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second Street, San Jose through October 18, 2015. Tickets are available online at or by calling 408-295-4200.

Photo: Susan Mah Photography

Be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Jose/Silicon Valley area

- Eddie Reynolds

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