Middlebury Actors Workshop stages ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’

PLAY PREVIEW: Are human beings good or evil? Can civilization or science ever tame the worst in us? In Middlebury Actors Workshop’s latest production opening next week at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury, set in Victorian London, we meet Dr. Henry Jekyll, a gentleman scientist who has left his practice to pursue that burning question. His solution, which makes him the world’s first psycho-pharmacologist, launches a tense and fast-moving drama.
MAW’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Jeffrey Hatcher’s new adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella, traces the consequences of Jekyll’s doomed quest. When Jekyll (played by Paul Ugalde), brews up a powerful potion and tests it on himself, he is instantly transformed into his evil twin, Mr. Edward Hyde (primarily played by Jordan Gullikson). Hyde is the opposite of a Victorian gentleman — he’s grotesque in appearance, ill-mannered, violent, and entirely without conscience.
In the many film versions of Stevenson’s tale, the physical transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is achieved by makeup and special effects. But MAW, as always, does its magic with the sheer acting skill of its cast. Multiple actors portray some aspect of Hyde, surrounding him in a Greek chorus of split personalities. The effect is enhanced by Christopher Bellanger’s creative lighting design and composer Peter Hamlin’s eerie musical score.
At first unbeknownst to Dr. Jekyll, Hyde roams the town making trouble, brawling in pubs, abusing prostitutes, and eventually committing the brutal murder of Sir Danvers Carew (Patrick Clow). Each time the potion wears off, Jekyll learns more bad news about Hyde’s depredations. Friends, like his lawyer Utterson (J. Louis Reid), press him to cut ties with Hyde. Eventually, Jekyll can no longer ignore the problem and takes drastic action to stop Hyde — and in the process is shocked to discover that his own goodness is heavily spiced with evil, and that even Hyde had a few good points.
The play evokes London with a versatile set designed by Ellie Friml and period costumes crafted by MaryKay Dempewolff. But the master touch is the voice of each actor, speaking not in undifferentiated “British” accent, but in carefully chosen registers of London English in all its variety: upper-class, middle-class, Scots, Irish, north and south regional, and Cockney. This innovative company’s special talent is knowing and being able to deploy the full talents of its professional acting corps.
We are lucky to have live theater of this caliber here in Vermont, and MAW increasingly has been able to expand its runs beyond a few nights. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” opens Thursday, Oct. 23, at Town Hall Theater and runs through Oct. 31. For tickets and information, call 382-9222 or visit townhalltheater.org.
It will also play at Rutland’s Paramount Theater on Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. — more information at 802-775-0903 or paramountvt.org.
MARIANNE DIMASCIO, ON the floor, and J. Louis Reid, left, Jordan Gullikson, Kate Tilton, Cody McGlashan, Patrick Clow and Chris Caswell rehearse in Weybridge Tuesday night.
Independent photos/Trent Campbell

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