To the accompaniment of creepy, brooding music, the characters step out of the complete darkness. Enshrouded in fog with only their faces lit, each speaks briefly. The lights suddenly go out. A woman screams. And the mood is set for the Actors Guild of Parkersburg’s stellar production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s play, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic thriller, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Set in the bleak, misty streets of London in the late 19th Century, the play is the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll and his experimental attempt to isolate the “evil” side of the human psyche, the part that he sees as a leftover from the days before civilization deemed survival of the fittest no longer necessary. His goal is to eradicate that side of human nature. Despite his friends’ protestations, he experiments on the one available willing subject: himself. And that’s where the fun begins. As long as you think assault, mutilation and murder are fun. And who doesn’t?
The small cast, most of whom play multiple parts, is quite strong. The neatest device is that four of the actors, Ben Bradley, Natalie Bradley, David Prather, and Shawn Price, while also playing other parts, play four different manifestations of Mr. Hyde. Though each is distinct, taken together, they comprise the splintered elements of the darker side of human nature. One is more violent and sexual while another is more brooding and angry and yet another is more subtly seething and selfish. My favorite moments are when one of the four steps out of another character and physically becomes Hyde, whispering hauntingly in the ear of the tortured Jekyll, played wonderfully by J. T. Spivy. The only hitch among the performances was Dr. Lanyon’s Scottish accent. It was a bit hard to understand him at times and the accent drifted in and out occasionally.
The final member of the cast, Joanie Owen, displays a talent that belies her tender years. I never questioned for a moment that she was the self-destructive Elizabeth Jelkes, who, for reasons known only to herself, falls deeply in love with Edward Hyde. So in love that she knows he’s committed murder and stays loyal to him. Only a high school senior, Joanie has some mean acting chops. I predict she is going to do great things in acting.
Technically speaking, the play is terrific as well. The lighting adds greatly to the dark, mysterious mood, especially the judicious use of color. The sound is first-rate, with no volume issues. And the music truly adds to the eerie mood. The set was simple but highly effective. Special props to the crew that had to move that door. Once you see the show, you’ll understand just how monumental a task that is.
This show is a blast and you should definitely get your tickets soon because it’s a short run of only two weekends, from Friday, September 22 to Sunday, October 1. Fridays and Saturdays, the curtain goes up at 8:00pm with Sunday’s matinee kicking off at 2:30pm. For an added bit of fun, consider the late-night performance on September 29 at 11:30pm.