David Whalen talks Jekyll


David Whalen, who has been seen at City Theatre in Speak American and Opus, is playing Dr. Jekyll in City Theatre’s upcoming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We’ll be checking in with David occasionally throughout the rehearsal and performance process to see how things are progressing in the rehearsal hall and how the show evolves–as a show always does with an audience in the mix–once it’s in performance. As he was about to start, and then began, rehearsals this week David talked about preparing for a new role and the discoveries of early rehearsals.

Carlyn: You’ve been at this a while. Can you share some thoughts on how you feel when you enter a brand new rehearsal process?

David: I love entering a new rehearsal process. Getting to know the director, fellow cast members, exploring the play with all these minds and viewpoints. It’s always thrilling.

Carlyn: What is exciting to an actor about Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

David: This adaptation is very exciting—it really is an actor’s piece. Just a door, lights, chairs, and the actor’s imagination. Can’t wait to bring it to life with the actors and director.

Carlyn: What have you been doing to prepare for rehearsals?

David: I do a lot of research for any part—I’ve read the play probably at least 50 times, read the novella, investigated the time period. Since I’m playing a doctor, I thought it was important for me to know about medical procedures of the time. Drugs that were used. Henry Jekyll seems to me to be a modern-day biotech researcher—searching for new cures to things that trouble him. “If we could find the chemical balance that would isolate these rages, these horrors, wouldn’t we pursue their cure?” I love that line. Searching for a way to find “serenity” and “peace of mind” —that is a very noble start. Unfortunately—it can and does lead to ignoble behavior. It makes me understand that he is experimenting for good—not melodramatically pouring test tubes of various ingredients back and forth. (Cue maniacal laughter and gothic organ music.)

Whalen viewing costume crop

David Whalen studies his costume renderings for Jekyll at the first rehearsal.

Carlyn: Other than research for a role, what kind of textual and/or character exploration do you do on your own prior to the start of rehearsals?

David: My favorite teacher in grad school would say “IT’S ALL IN THE TEXT”—I thoroughly enjoy finding the operative words, clues about relationships, past history, conditioning forces (i.e., time, place, weather), and finding the most economical and specific actions to play. It really comes down to thorough detective work.

Carlyn: What did you discover this week as a result of the readings and table work [the close exploration, questioning, discussion of the text, section by section, before the actors get up “on their feet” to begin “blocking” the stage movement]?

David: What’s most interesting about hearing the play with the actors for the first time is the different voices of the characters. They’ve been in my head for a long time and it was exciting to listen to the sounds of these characters. Each actor has their own take on the people—so the words take on new life, sometimes very different than what I had in my head.

Being around the table and going through the text is always enlightening. We were able to gain new insight, deepen and bring to the surface clues in the text as to time constraints, relationships, motivation. All these will be used when we get on our feet and begin to move around in the world of the play.

Carlyn: In this early period of rehearsal when you’re still holding a script, but on your feet, what are you working to achieve—physically, psychically, however—towards character development (as opposed to simply blocking the movement)?

David: I like to get the script out of my hand very soon. Once we’ve blocked a scene, I try to attack it the next time without the pages holding me back. This allows me to dare to be brave, try things, push the paranoia of the character, pull it back when necessary, conceal it when needed, etc. I really want to bring out Jekyll’s passion for his work. His intense curiousity is compelling to me.

I think Dr. Jekyll is a bit restrained physically at first and as his Hyde(s) comes about then there is room for all kinds of metamorphoses of movement. Seductive, oppressive, dominating, etc. I’m touching on that now and I love that Tracy [Brigden, the director] encourages and guides that along. I love rehearsing, “rehearing” the play each time we work.

Carlyn: What brings out your “Hyde”?

David: I think we’re all a bit Jekyll and Hyde (in real life, I’m 70% Jekyll and 30% Hyde). I actually think that’s where Dr. Jekyll starts—then the percentages shift throughout the play—that’s where it gets scary, funny, erotic, appalling, etc.  

Lazy people bring out my “HYDE” more than anything—

But, I keep coming back to one of the question the play raises, “What sort of man would want the beast, when all he sought was peace of mind?”

The dark side of human nature is very seductive—as my wife says, “You’re in touch with that, Dave.” (In a healthy way!) No need to go into those details!!

And that’s an impossible-to-miss cue to wrap this segment up so David’s Hyde can remain hiddenrightly so! Look for our next check-in with him soon. Thanks, Dave!


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