A fine line
Schoolhouse’s Jekyll and Hyde is flawed, but not fatally
By Katherine Joyce
Jekyll and Hyde runs through Nov. 4 at the Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish. Call (207) 642-3743.
Schoolhouse Arts Center at Sebago Lake has an admirable mission: to use theater as a learning tool. Participants have the experience of working together toward a common goal, and the satisfaction of completing a project successfully in an environment where self-expression is the name of the game (not too common these days). These experiences teach life skills that will undoubtedly prove to be of immeasurable value to the students as they proceed through their lives.
|HALF BAD, HALF GOOD:
Jason Plourde and Kelly Caufield in Jekyll and Hyde.
The Schoolhouse’s most recent feat is beating everyone to the punch, and producing the Maine premiere of the recent Broadway smash Jekyll and Hyde — The Musical. Based on the book by Robert Louis Stevenson, the musical delves into the darker side of humanity. Dr. Jekyll (played by Jason Plourde), a respected but controversial scientist, endeavors to rid the world of evil by separating it from good. His attempt to obtain a human subject for his experiment fails when the Board of Directors at St. Jude’s Hospital rejects his theory. He is forced to perform the experiment on himself, giving rise to his evil alter ego, Mr. Hyde. Jekyll’s fiancée, Emma (Meg Doherty Scannell) stands by her man in high society, while Hyde’s love interest, Lucy (Kelly Caufield), is tormented by hers at the Red Rat, where she is a prostitute.
Director Deb Doherty deals in the struggle between good and evil in this brooding musical with a complicated and difficult score reminiscent of Klezmer music, with dissonant harmonies and haunting melodies. It tests the vocal and acting skills of the cast, and the execution skills of the technical crew. Up to the task, the cast has exceptional vocal skills — and the orchestra is far superior to the orchestras I recall from my school days. The lead characters give near-perfect vocal performances, the highlight of which is a gorgeous duet by Lucy and Emma.
ýhe cast’s acting is little bit shakier. The lead players seem more comfortable singing than acting; inviting the audience to focus on their voices, but often falling short of moving the story along in a gripping way. The chemistry between Jekyll/Hyde and his love interests is not particularly passionate. Some players struggle with the English accent (or just don’t bother), which can be distracting. Nonetheless, the relationship between Emma and her father (Keith Halliburton) is very tender, and Plourde does a great job of giving us the physical and vocal cues we need to distinguish between Jekyll and Hyde.
The technical aspects of the performance have pros and cons. The goal of the lights, the costumes, the set, and choreography is to reflect the theme of good versus evil.
The lights, for example, use primarily white filters for the “good” scenes, and combine green and hot pink side lighting for the “evil” scenes. Although a simple device, the use of the cool green and the hot pink together illustrates the ugly intellect and the hot passion of evil in a clever way. There is also some good use of shadow, which might be easier to execute with strip lights at the edge of the stage.
The women’s costumes have the benefit of obvious visual cues: gorgeous dresses versus old-fashioned lingerie help to set the trap for the audience to identify which women are good and which are evil. Of course the characters aren’t quite that transparent; the audience can’t rely on the costumes, but must “look behind the façade.” That’s good, but the acting needs to be there to provide nuance.
Some of the men’s clothes are ill-fitting, and others lovely, but it doesn’t seem as though those characteristics are an intentional reflection of the good-vs.-evil theme. In fact, those inconsistencies appear within the same social classes, amongst similar minded people, making it difficult to determine who is who.
The choreography reflects the theme as well. Though, if the dancers at the Red Rat were more raunchy, had a little more fun, the distinction between the world of Jekyll and the world of Hyde would be more dramatic. The choreography of group numbers is predictable, but fulfills the practical goal of maintaining order with large numbers of people on stage.
As for the set, it is ingenious — but the large cast necessitates its placement fairly far upstage. This forces some intense scenes just enough upstage so that the rafters swallow the sound. However, it does a great job of reflecting the “fine line between a good man and a bad.” The stained glass windows on the Red Rat are a great touch.
This production has flaws, but somehow, none of them are fatal. Some components are stronger than others, and the audience can debate what could make each particular scene a little bit more punchy, a little bit more authentic, just as I have done here. What is unmistakable, however, is that the most compelling component of excellent theater is passionate, dedicated people, both on and off stage. This production has an abundance of such people, and it is impossible to fault them for flaws that are an integral part of the learning process. It is, however, a great pleasure to give the Schoolhouse Arts Center credit for emphasizing the process of theater, in the knowledge that such emphasis provides the greatest benefits to the participants. The Jekyll and Hyde audience is given a taste of the most satisfying part of the theatrical process — the joy that inspires it.
Katherine Joyce can be reached at email@example.com.