There are moments when orotund Victorian prose is rolling from the frothing mouth of Mondy Carter’s Mr. Hyde, when you realize that theater can be stranger and more exciting than you had dared hope, when you realize you have been laughing uproariously at tragedy without catching yourself until the applause begins. The play’s winking, nudging text and high camp delivery conceals the fact — maybe until deep in the second act — that what you’re seeing is a minor masterpiece, a philosophical treatise disguised as a lewd skit. Dr. Jekyll may be right that two souls dwell in every person, but he has missed the full import of that discovery, for Hyde is not only sexier than Jekyll, he’s smarter, too. Jekyll is unsure of himself even when he’s doing “good.” Hyde does what he wants without caring one way or the other, and that comes out looking so much cleaner.
Steven Samuel’s pastiche script is brilliant. Its bad decorum — putting high sentence in the mouths of the wrong people at the wrong time — is a stroke of genius. No one is ever saying quite the right thing, and yet the outcome is revelatory, almost symphonic. You think at first this production is all about acting, but it’s really all about language, and you will seldom hear better.
Samuels has the cast to make it work. Mostly. When I saw the opening night cast, I thought I had seldom seen better ensemble work, each new entrance and each new character peaking the one before. Carter’s Jekyll is goofy-suave in a Monty Python way, but his Hyde is transcendent, pure appetite, at once cunning and candid, possessed of an aesthetic that the audience will find disturbingly attractive before the end. John Crutchfield is perfect as Hyde’s wholly inadequate nemesis, Dr. Lanyon. He’s Dudley Doright with a Theology degree, and by the time he gets throttled (sorry if I’m giving anything away) you’re grateful. Tracey Johnston-Crum brings a slutty toothsomeness to her character that keeps a pretty dreary situation funny. Alphie Hyorth as Poole the Butler overplays just under the level of overplaying of the rest of the cast, and thereby almost steals the show.
Back when When Jekyll Met Hyde was conceived as the opening show of the Magnetic Theatre, there were good reasons for it to have two casts and two slightly different conceptions. Maybe it was an idea which should have been abandoned. The ‘50s cast was well nigh perfect. The ‘60s cast wasn’t. The night I saw the second team they were mismatched, occasionally inaudible, and at least one of them had made choices so selfish and destructive to the ensemble that one wondered why they were tolerated. Not even John Crutchfield’s witty delivery (this time as Jekyll/Hyde) could save the performance. Peter Brezny as Poole emerged with hilarious dignity fully intact. But anything can happen on any given night in the theater, and perhaps I saw their one bad hour. I hope so, for I would like to set down the A+ of the first night as this show’s final grade.
About the two shows:
“To double the fun, and to honor the split personality at the heart of the story, The Magnetic Theatre is mounting two different productions of When Jekyll Met Hyde simultaneously, one set in the 1950s, the other in the 1960s, with two different casts, in alternating repertory: in the 1950s version, Mondy Carter, Tracey Johnston-Crum, John Crutchfield, Darren Marshall, and Alphie Hyorth; in the 1960s version, John Crutchfield, Kathryn Temple, Julian Vorus, Steph Anie, and Peter Brezny.
‘Says Bacchus to Venus,’ music and lyrics by Steven Samuels, arrangement by Brian Claflin and Steven Samuels, realization by Brian Claflin. Set design: Leslie Klingner and Kevin Smith. Lighting design: Ryan Madden. Costume design: Xanath Espina. Sound design and additional music: Brian Claflin. Choreography: Julie Becton Gillum. Stage manager: Katie Anne Towner. Producer: Chall Gray.”
Performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Friday-Saturday at 10 P.M. Tickets are $12 Thursday, and Friday and Saturday late shows, $14 Friday and Saturday early shows. Discounts available for students, seniors 65+, and groups of 10 or more.
Details and ticket sales available here. Telephone reservation line: 668.2154. For group sales, please contact Chall Gray, firstname.lastname@example.org.