The first glimpse of a miniature cardboard cutout of the London skyline sets the tone for an evening spent with Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Wildly creative and deceptively simple, this retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel is one selection from this year’s Fringe Encores line-up. Well curated by Artistic Director Darren Cole and his team, the series brings to the nonprofit SoHo Playhouse the very best shows from the world’s most well regarded fringe festivals including Brighton, Edinburgh, Hollywood, Limerick, Orlando, and Toronto as well as New York. It’s theater for lovers of lively and inventive works.
At first, the dapper Burt Grinstead as Dr. Jekyll plays straight man to Anna Stromberg, varying her accent and exchanging aprons, hats, pipes, and other bargain bin objects in rapid succession as she takes on every other character. It’s a tour de force performance for the actress, who also directs the piece. Several purposefully awkward lectures later, Mr. Grinstead gets in on the fun with his brilliant transformation from mild Jekyll into villainous Hyde, played out in effective silhouette. From there, the pace accelerates until the play’s dramatic conclusion.
The two actors wrote the script, which is witty with just enough scare to keep audience members jumping. Their adaptation retains many of the major plot points from the original book while taking quite a few creative liberties. The character line-up has been streamlined. This gives Ms. Stromberg the opportunity to show the full range of her talent without giving herself a coronary. As playwrights, they have also infused the story with contemporary relevance: heightening the social commentary and playing up the frustrations associated with Victorian era repression by providing Jekyll with a feminist love interest. It all works to tell a tale that is at once familiar and completely fresh.
The suggestive sets are composed of black interlocking wooden pieces with hidden compartments that reveal essential details in white. Mood changes are emphasized with solid color lighting behind a plain backdrop. These physical elements are augmented with a wonderfully produced soundscape of gulls, clock chimes, and musical flourishes.
At 75 minutes, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde takes you on a highly engaging ride that ends before it can become repetitive. With its pun-filled dialogue, clever production design and remarkably flexible two person cast, it’s low-budget entertainment done right. And with tickets available for as little as $25, it’s also tremendous night-out bang for the buck.
The “best of the fests” runs through December 16 at the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street off 6th Avenue near Spring. To see a calendar of remaining performance dates and purchase tickets, visit www.fringeencores.org.
Alison only knows one way of being. All waving arms and defensive language, she’s a fast talker in all the meanings of that phrase. Having been incarcerated for taking a hatchet to her lover’s car, she’s been released into the loving care of a church-sponsored sober house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. We meet her at her very first group session where she recites Carrie Underwood lyrics instead of the bible passage she’s supposed to have prepared. Within minutes she’s telling the circle why she’s not really responsible for her crime and emphasizing that, having never done drugs, she doesn’t have need of any one of the twelve steps.
Anyone who has experience with someone in recovery will know exactly how this story is going to unfold. That’s the essential problem with Blue Ridge, now playing at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater. While Abby Rosebrock’s script is beautifully written with textured dialogue, it doesn’t have anything new to say about mental health, boundary issues, or the powers of addiction in its many forms. Only those who find a new path have a real prayer of moving on intact enough to survive in the outside world.
From lower left: Peter Mark Kendall, Chris Stack, Kyle Beltran, Kristolyn Lloyd, Nicole Lewis and Marin Ireland in Blue Ridge. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.
In the hands and body of stage steady Marin Ireland, Alison is particularly irksome. Her constant shrillness and twitching makes it hard to believe anyone in this substitute family would warm to her. This is especially true of her devoted roommate Cherie, played with deep sincerity by the excellent Kristolyn Lloyd. The male housemates’ reactions come from two diametrically opposed yet equally predictable directions. Peter Mark Kendall brings genuine vulnerability to the easily beguiled Cole while the endlessly watchable Kyle Beltran’s Wade creates friction in his struggle to find inner strength. The program’s co-founders are equally ill-equipped to lead everyone safely through a troubled journey. Pastor Hern (a smooth Chris Stack) weakly attempts to guide the housemates in a more mindful direction, and Nicole Lewis’s insufficiently defined Grace generally lives up to her name by simply finding the good in what comes naturally to each of her residents.
Director Taibi Magar successfully explores the shifting mood as the house moves from warm community to too close for comfort. Confrontations have a palpable and fiery emotional core. Her pacing is off, though, with the play running nearly 15 minutes over the prescribed two hours on Thursday night. Mikaal Sulaiman provides the intelligently curated soundtrack for both conflict and healing. Unfortunately, some of the other design choices are distracting. Why is the ten year old furniture of Adam Rigg’s set in a palate associated with the late 70s? Why does Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting incorporate an incongruous brilliant December sunshine streaming through the window and ugly fluorescent overheads that play a supporting role for just a few minutes? Why, while indicating the passage of time through Thanksgiving throws and a Rudolf mantlepiece, do we need to break the story’s flow and see each item put in place by the glow of a proscenium of LEDs?
Taken as a whole, this production of Blue Ridge is flawed and consequently frustrating. Writer Rosebrock has obvious talent, but her storytelling has not yet been brought into focus. However, if you are fascinated by the ways in which broken people can either fit together with or puncture those around them, you may find enough with which to engage. This limited run is scheduled through Sunday, January 27th. Regular tickets begin at $65 and can be purchased online at atlantictheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at the Linda Gross Theater box office (336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues).