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As Long as We Remember...

October 28, 2009

REVIEW: Dr. Jekyll and Four Mr. Hydes

Roy Meachum

You read the column’s head right. The Maryland Ensemble Theatre is retelling Robert Louis Stevenson classic story in playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s version; no longer is a case of schizophrenia limited to a single individual. Mr. Hatcher took “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and spread the latter’s evil among four actors, including a woman, Karen Paone.


How did it go for me? Not well, the entire first act. Not until intermission did I read director Peter Wray’s notes and understood the playwright deliberately sat about distributing the arch villain’s malevolence; to add to my confusion Bill Stitely had the role of the evening’s hero all to himself.


In spite of having fixed in my mind Mr. Stevenson’s original tale – emphasized by a childhood’s Spencer Tracey film – I was more than fascinated by MET’s limited production; a cast of only six trots out 25 characters. Make that five, because, as I said, Mr. Stitely sticks to his appointed round as the “the good guy” Dr. Jekyll. Well, it turns out the upper crust physician is not that good. Another point invented by writer Hatcher: the doctor is more than aware of the evil that exists under his façade.


Going on opening night, I knew in advance that the performers were still settling in their parts; I once witnessed the changes in Arena Theatre’s “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.” At the opening, Thoreau dominated the evening; two weeks later it had become a thoroughly ensemble show. That was with a unionized crew of players that spent lots more time rehearsing than the MET’s skinnier budget allows.


Based on the Arena experience and others, including at the Kennedy Center and National Theatre, I know the show you see will doubtless be better than opening Saturday’s performance. Romping around the stage in the old Francis Scott Key Hotel lower level are Mark Barnhart, D. C. Cathro, Ashley Hall and Tad James – in addition to Ms. Paone and Mr. Stitely, mentioned earlier.


I will not attempt to appraise each actor, knowing each will doubtless grow well before the November 21 closing date. Check out the weekend seats available. There’s also a Sunday matinee. As I said, this version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is intriguing, although very different from Robert Louis Stevenson’s story.


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