The Theatre at AACC (formerly the Moonlight Troupers) recently tackled as its first production under its new name the Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." This version features one actor playing respected physician Dr. Henry Jekyll, one actor playing chambermaid Elizabeth Jelkes and four actors (including one woman) playing the evil Edward Hyde.
The production marked a first for me - I needed to attend a second performance. Familiarity with Spencer Tracy's classic 1941 film and the Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse's 1990 musical version could not have prepared me for Hatcher's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" in just one sitting.
Encountering four Hydes made it nearly impossible for me to tell which characters the actors were playing. At one point, Jekyll's friend crouches in apparent agony before morphing into Hyde, and at another, several versions of Hyde appear together, all talking at once.
All of this was played out against a black backdrop, where spotlighted actors disappeared into shadows or fog. Complex flashback retelling of Jekyll's story in diary entries and friends' personal accounts only added to the confusion.
Although my second visit brought greater appreciation for the nine-member all-student cast and better understanding of this version, I still found Hatcher's plot difficult to follow.
The play sometimes seemed to lose focus, and several of the characters were stiffly one-dimensional, both inherent flaws and not the fault of AACC's production.
One AACC problem that did not improve the second time around was a green light placed on the stage floor that shone directly into my eyes. Although this was annoying enough for me to complain about on opening night, the light remained directed outward in the same spot on my second visit.
The minimalist black background set usually dominated by a single door worked well enough with other props, creating a drawing room, a medical dissecting theater, a hotel room and outdoor scenes. Many scenes were shadowed in gloom compounded by low-intensity lighting, while colored lights placed on the stage floor and directed outward heightened the intensity of violent scenes.
Although on opening night I did not understand much of the dialogue delivered by actors whose fake British accents were difficult to decipher, everyone enunciated more clearly on my second viewing.
Director Lars Tatom wrote in his program notes: "In life there really are no issues that are totally black and white - we all exist in the gray areas and that is what this show is all about."
I'd add that this adaptation also had a more contemporary, less Victorian feel, with Jekyll making the distinction between brain and mind, which might not have been expressed by scientists in 1883.
The Elizabeth character added a spunky, near-feminist chambermaid that audiences could understand. Revealing Jekyll's lack of success in repressing evil and Hyde's selfless protectiveness of her highlight notion that good and evil exist in everyone. At the end, as Jekyll falls prey to Hyde's control, Hyde surprisingly gains sympathy from the audience as they exchange identities.
Among outstanding performances, sophomore theater major Timotheus German ranks near the top in his multidimensional, gripping portrayal of Jekyll, conveying his idealism and arrogance, and his increasingly erratic behavior toward his friends. He shows a cool, scientific approach that mixes with his transformations into Hyde while subtly revealing Hyde's coloration of his psyche.
The only other actor playing a single role was AACC theater student Chelsea Hunt as Elizabeth. She reveals the character's strength, bravery and unwavering devotion without a trace of the pathos of woman devoted to an abusive partner.
Another standout performance was given by AACC student Brandon Hare as Jekyll's rival surgeon Dr. Carew, who derides Jekyll, and is tiresomely moralistic and disdainful of working-class people. As Hyde, Hare was downright fearsome, and as Jekyll's victim, his Carew projected a surprising heroism as he was struck again and again by Jekyll's cane.
In his AACC debut, Adam Timko delivered a memorable performance as Jekyll's loyal and trusted school friend, Dr. Lanyon, and as a fiendish Hyde who projects more human qualities in concern for Elizabeth and restrained affection for her.
Chris Ryan as Jekyll's lawyer, Utterson, conveyed an unwavering trust in Jekyll as well as constant protectiveness. As Hyde, Ryan underwent perhaps the most complete vocal transformation.
Angela Miller convincingly played Jekyll's faithful servant Poole, and became a surprisingly fearsome Hyde.
Playing interns were Emilie Eastman, Jennette Nelligan and Emily Marie Ward-Schultz, and Christina McAlpine's costume designs deserve high marks.