Synetic Theater, a company which has never shied away from showing squirmy evil in all its wormy liveliness, here produces a ninety-minute symphony of depravity, and I mean that in a good way. Jekyll and Hyde, loosely based on Robert Lewis Stevenson’s story, could, with justice, be subtitled The Fall of Man, and How Good It Feels.
But Adam, we must remember, lost Paradise not by eating from the tree of evil but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and so Synetic Theater’s journey, and that of the astonishing Alex Mills, into the heart of darkness is also, paradoxically, an enlightenment.
In Nathan Weinberger and Paata Tsikurishvili’s adaptation, Henry Jekyll (Mills) is a brilliant man, an experimental biologist, whose Frankensteinian project is to create and animate a collection of cyborgs. He seeks to discover whether the principals of good and evil are inherent in the creation of a human soul. On the verge of success, he proposes to a beautiful woman (Brittany O’Grady), who accepts him. He wins the approval of her dad (Darren Marquardt), and seemingly awash in the world’s joys, goes out with his friend Lanyon (Peter Pereyra) for a night on the town.
But Jekyll, who appears to be luminously in control of his world, is a man of shadows. He is stiff and formal with his fiancée; when he proposes he forgets the ring and Lanyon must give it to him. When he holds out his hand to shake with his prospective father-in-law, dad ignores it for a cold moment before grasping it, and Jekyll. He has accepted his proposed son-in-law, but not without reminding him who holds the power. As for Jekyll, he has mastered the forms of conventional goodness and happiness, but not its substance.
Things begin to unwind for him when he visits a dive in the bowels of the City with Lanyon. With the inauthentic bravura which typifies his life, he fires up an enormous cigar, and chokes on it. The local fancy ladies press their fabulous bodies against his, to his horror and distress. He longs to escape their enticements, and return to his world of conventional goodness. And yet…and yet. He steals a kiss from a stripper in distress (Rebecca Hausman), and is immediately gripped with a profound fever of guilt. He did wrong! And it felt good.
So he goes back to his lab, injects himself with the same stuff he injects into his creatures…and becomes Edward Hyde. In so doing, he resolves all questions of good and evil. Evil wins. His features relax; he breathes freely. He is himself. He was a henpecked Jekyll, but as Hyde he is in plain sight, and at his ease. He goes back to the strippers and their swells with sex in his pocket. Soon he has murder in there as well.
Good and evil struggle in the body of Edward Hyde, but inevitably evil wins. Eventually Hyde puts Jekyll – literally – in a box. The injection, it is clear, hasn’t made Jekyll evil – it’s made him certain. He becomes successively more and more disinhibitied; more and more Hyde; more and more depraved; more and more himself.
And how do we know all this, in a production in which not a single word is spoken? Because the fabulous Alex Mills tells us so – with his face, with his body, with his gestures. Leave aside his boneless contortions; his freakish athleticism; his Cirque de Soleil acrobatics. This man can act. His face conveys the difference between genuine and feigned feeling; you can measure his character’s self-confidence – almost to the millimeter – by the bearing he gives him and the regularity of his movements. His Jekyll carries a tension within him which tells us everything we need to know about him. In an instant, when he becomes Hyde, it is all gone.
And now let’s go back to the contortions, etc. Mills does everything but turn himself inside out in this production. He does not repeal gravity, but he dials it back quite a bit. It is nothing for him to jump from ten or so feet to the stage floor, and as Hyde he seems at every moment a danger to fly off the stage, and pulverize some hapless audience member. There are two particularly brilliant scenes, both involving the struggle between Jekyll and Hyde over the body they share. In one, Jekyll tries to prevent Hyde from ravaging the fiancée in the same manner as he just finished ravaging her wedding dress. In the other, Jekyll and Hyde try to throw each other into a bank of video screens, and thus into electronic jail.
If there are defects, they are in the adapters’ efforts to transport the play’s universe from Stevenson’s Victorian past into the indefinite future. You will see immediately that the cyborgs and the bank of video monitors play a useful role in the production but they do not play one in the story. It is impossible to tell what Jekyll intends to do with the cyborgs, or even what they are, without reading the program notes. And the video monitors – well, I’m still trying to figure out what a Victorian scientist would be doing with video monitors.
Longtime Synetic followers may have noticed that, aside from Mills, most of the actors are new to Synetic’s unique discipline. Be not alarmed. We see throughout the play the firm hand of director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili, and the kids are alright.
Daniel Pinha’s set is superb, full of steampunk effect, including real steam. Although I had some issues with Andrew F. Griffin’s dim lighting, Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s soundtrack was one of his best ever, constantly in harmony with the action on stage. And as for the multimedia, designed and produced by Riki Kim — holy mackerel! The electronics burn the stage into life when we are with Jekyll in his lab and disappear otherwise and help turn Jekyll and Hyde, despite its flaws, into the organic triumph it is.
Jekyll and Hyde, adapted by Nathan Weinberger and Paata Tsikurishvili from a novella by Robert Louis Stevenson. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili. Featuring Alex Mills, Peter Peneyra, Brittany O’Grady, Darren Marquardtm Rebecca Hausman, Jace Casey, Chris Galindo, Austin Johnson, Julian Elijah Martinez, Karen A. Morales-Chacana and Emily Whitworth; set design by Daniel Pinha; costume design by Chelsey Schuller, assisted by Corey Dunn; lighting design by Andrew F. Griffin assisted by Brittany Dilberto; sound design by Konstantine Lortkipanidze and Irakli Kavsadze, with original music by Lortkipanidze; Multimedia Design by Riki Kim. Donna Stout was the stage manager, assisted by Amanda Rhodes. Erin Baxter was the production supervisor. Technical direction by Phil Charlwood. Produced by Synetic Theater. Reviewed by Tim Treanor.
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