‘Hyde’ sheds bright light on darker nature
> Dread visceral, intellectual in this chill-season thriller
Special to The Commercial Appeal
The good/evil tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has delighted and thrilled readers and playgoers since Robert Louis Stevenson penned the novella in 1886.
Theatre Memphis has staged a terrific Halloween season chiller, spinning a new version of the respectable physician who explores his darker nature by immersion. His addiction is a struggle of the soul of right vs. wrong, logic vs. emotion, order vs. mayhem.
Theatre Memphis’ production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s insightful adaptation takes it up a notch. The notion of our bad side struggling with the good is given a more complex treatment, where we are faced with several distinct demons, not all of whom reflect the worst in us, but all of whom trouble us. It’s where the wild things really are.
Jerry Dye’s direction is a briskly paced scrutiny of Jekyll (Kinon Keplinger, solidly uptight and tormented) whose dedication to science and the truth is eroded by his need to conceal his true experiment.
Dye’s kinetic vision propels the production through levels of visceral and intellectual unease. He makes excellent use of the spare set, including Hyde’s meandering red door — a character in itself, to feed the dread.
Besides Keplinger, half a dozen other actors carry the bulk of multiple performances. A crisp and formidable Christina Wellford Scott, a nicely nuanced Steven Brown, a passionate Matt Reed and a strong Erin Shelton are all particularly effective.
There is inspired use of sound and light. Low, thrumming sounds and unsettling echoes are blended for excellent effect. The lighting is smartly employed to accent the action. Four stacks of a dozen strong lights face the audience and underscore moments of violence and terror. It’s a (literally) brilliant concept, although blinding theatergoers risks taking the viewer out of the action.
But successful productions usually take risks, and Dye’s thrilling effort boldly goes for the jugular with highly entertaining consequences.