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Photograph by Tim Fuller
RETURN OF THE REPRESSED: Mr. Hyde (Mark Anderson Phillips) acts out with Anna Bullard in 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.'

Hyde and Seek

The good doctor and his evil twin multiple in San Jose Rep's 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'

By Marianne Messina

WHAT'S behind the red door? In San Jose Repertory Theatre's world-premiere production (a co-production with the Arizona Theatre Company, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher) of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it's "appetites wrapped into a bound fist," namely Mr. Hyde. The blood-red door, which moves around the stage as Hyde's front door and the door to Jekyll's laboratory, can't keep Jekyll from Hyde, played in this adaptation by four actors. In the Robert Louis Stevenson story, an obsessive, forward-thinking Dr. Jekyll invents and tests a "tincture" (the color of a green light in this production) that isolates his repressed, evil nature as a personality called Hyde. An identity battle ensues—in this show, it's more like a chess game with Dr. Jekyll's acquaintances as the pieces.

The main frame for all stage settings is an observation lecture hall at a teaching hospital, its upstairs galley an incomplete circle of tiered benches. On the floor of the hall, Sir Danvers Carew (Stephen D'Ambrose) conducts a titillating lecture/demonstration on a prostitute's cadaver. A departure for the Rep, the play is replete with such lurid deeds and language, however obliquely rendered—blood-soaked rags, covered cadavers, shorthanded sex acts, a shadow show of brutality (behind a medical curtain, for paradox). The ability of these ghastly acts to fascinate, like Carew's lectures, delightfully drags the audience into the hypocrisy and complicity—"I would have called out sooner," says a witness to a Hyde murder, "but the bad in me wanted to watch." The "dominant" Hyde, played by Mark Anderson Phillips, is part Spiderman (leaping onto walls), part Elephant Man (twisted back and knocked knees), a smidge of Golem ("Evil, evil Henry Jekyll!") and a lot of fun. In a sensual dance, Phillips-Hyde manhandles the woman who comes to love him, Elizabeth Jelkes (Anna Bullard), into vulnerable positions. Finally, he asks her, "Why are you so brave?" "Because I'm a submissive masochist." Well, OK, she doesn't actually say that, but you get the sense from the staging (directed by David Ira Goldstein), and the "Oh, do strangle me!" look in Elizabeth's eyes, that 100 years later these two would be in a happy BDSM partnership.

Elizabeth and her red ringlets bring all the Hydes into play, signaled by a stew of subtle sounds (Brian Jerome Peterson, sound design), from breathing to heartbeats to hisses. When Carrie Paff-Hyde seduces Elizabeth, the Hydes hidden in the shadows express differing rapacious desires. Paff's stage charisma, her ambiguous gender and slithery, aspirating Hyde recommend seeing much more of this incarnation. Only when the four Hydes interact onstage in their capes and canes and top hats and their almost operatic interplay of voices, does this show give us a glimmer of the hidden mechanism—the way we constantly negotiate different internal beings and how a kind of algorithm of inner variables determines what action we ultimately manifest. But the conceit is underdeveloped. The final confrontation between Jekyll and Hyde is a direct tease to Trekkies who may remember the Star Trek episode in which Kirk splits into two selves—vulnerable, unsure self and decisive, petulant self. They merge back to unity when vulnerable self physically embraces petulant self, but ... This silky, naughty production could have wrung more substance from a great concept; still, it's pleasingly on form.

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, a San Jose Repertory Theatre presentation, plays Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through June 8 at the Rep, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $37–$59. (408.367.7255)

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