Alex Nawrocki, Jacob Clark, Steve Lewis and Buffy Bezdek gather around a cadaver as Dr. Jekyll disputes the findings of an autopsy.
By Dan Huth,
Tater Patch’s latest production will rock you. Not because Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is spooky, although it is. Not because the show deals with violence, murder and rape, although it does. But because it involves you in every step, every disclosure, and every twist and turn of this complex story.
Although Robert Louis Stevenson also wrote the immensely entertaining Treasure Island and Kidnapped, don’t walk into the charming Tater Patch Playhouse expecting to coast along the simple linear path of a Sound of Music or Minions. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s 2008 stage adaptation of this complex tale will make you lean forward to catch every little clue that foreshadows what’s to come.
Is it challenging? Yes. Can it be confusing? Yes. Is it worth investing your attention to try to untie the mysterious knots the playwright has created? Absolutely! Because the play-wright specified that each actor must play many roles, Director Jan Simpson had to cover 23 roles using only seven actors. To add to the challenge, the same character is often played by different actors.
Once the audience gets locked into the flow of the play, it becomes easier to make sense of who’s playing which character in each scene. But it would make it easier to follow if each character had a fixed “character key” regardless of which actor played that role. For example, Mr. Hyde might always carry a cigar—so even when Buffy Bezdek plays him, you’d know it was Mr. Hyde.
A familiar gothic story
The familiar story is set in Victorian London. A brilliant doctor named Jekyll scours the world in search of exotic potions to use in his experiments. Does he produce a beast? A split-personality? Good and evil?You, the audience, must decide.
Scene changes are artfully handled on this minimal Robert Countryman set through the creative use of lighting and re-positioned doors.Considering the first act alone has 19 different scenes, each re-set must be quick. The moment a scene concludes, lights drop. Actors and Stage Manager Audrey Kirsten-Lewis scurry around, doing a frantic “door dance.” Lights up. Action resumes while you’re still trying to digest what happened in the last scene.
Most scenes end with hints--something dark, stunning, or curious, leaving the audience’s mind spinning. Sitting in the darkness on opening night, I heard a man to my left mutter “Huh?” while the woman behind me proclaimed “Aha!”
The actors seem to be aware of the importance of each word, for despite accurate and consistent British dialects, they project well and make it easy to follow the sometimes complex Victorian sentence constructions.
Tater Patch continues to broaden its arsenal of acting talent with each production. Local attorney Keith Galligan is new to the stage, and was confident and firm in the role of an attorney, as well as one of the Mr. Hydes. Handsome Jacob Clark took on the demanding role of Dr. Jekyll despite not having done any acting since fifth grade. Jekyll is a brilliant doctor who has discovered “tinctures” which can free his evil side, while he remains tortured by his inability to accept love.
Clark gives a performance colored with shade and nuance, strengthened by an ability usually only mastered by much more experienced actors; the art of actually listening when he’s not delivering a line.
Steve Lewis brings a background heavily flavored with comedy to the dark role as Mr. Hyde. He rises to an actor’s challenge of playing a frightening being who can soften and melt in the presence of a woman who shows him love. And why did director Jan Simpson cast a woman, Buffy Bezdek, to play (among other roles) a male butler?
The playwright specified that a woman play the part of the butler in order to more easily project kindness and friendship which the tortured Jekyll could not accept. Bezdek is able to slip effortlessly into vastly differing characters and actually becomes them.
Calvin Smith’s imperious demeanor is spot-on for the roles he plays with crispness, intelligent force and a delightful spark of dry humor. Yes—there are lots of laughs in this offering.
Some girls simply like bad guys
Why a beautiful young woman would choose to fall in love with a twisted, dangerous man like Mr. Hyde…yet turn her back on the dashing Dr. Jekyll? In her second year with Tater Patch, Dezarea Bryan portrays this conflicted girl so convincingly that we feel her love, and yet we do not understand it either. Again, Bryan colors her portrayal with a wonderful cockney accent and excellent clarity.
Tater Patch patrons have come to expect a rock-solid, artistic painting of whatever character veteran actor Alex Nawrocki is called upon to play. In this show, the versatile actor plays four roles, ranging from the town drunk to a teaching pathologist who comments on the “exemplary breasts” of a cadaver.
It might have been safer to serve up a blander dish for Jasper—something light and frothy. Tater Patch is taking a leap of faith with this offering…faith that the area is ready for a serious piece of work. It’s an ambitious undertaking for a community theater, but Director Jan Simpson and her talented team pull it off. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a fitting achievement to mark Simpson’s 30th year with Tater Patch.
I’m betting word-of-mouth will pull in those who love good acting, an occasional chuckle, and a “whodunnit” experience that will challenge rather than merely entertain them.