Shades of Gray: First-Day Rehearsal Thoughts by Director Tracy Brigden

Often on the first day of rehearsal, just before the design presentations and the first read-through, the director will give a brief presentation of his or her thoughts to cast and company to kick off the process. As we approach performances of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we thought our readers would find it interesting to hear what Tracy Brigden had to say at her first rehearsal.

The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde resides in our collective conscious regardless of whether we have ever read the 100-page novella. What we think of when we talk of a Jekyll and Hyde is a person who is extreme in flipping his moods or someone who lives an upright life in public and does dark deeds when no one is looking. However, this is really a story about a pioneer—an explorer whose scientific and human curiosity has led him to the most uncharted territory, more dangerous than any remote jungle or mountain top. It is a story about the unconscious and what really lurks beneath the surface in all of us—regardless of our class or upbringing or outward morality. 

Do we all have a secret desire to fully embrace our id, our seven deadly sins, to become all get and no give, and see what that’s like? Do we harbor the notion that this stifling condition called “civilized” society is holding us back from our true selves? If we were not fettered and polished and corseted by faith and manners, who would each of us really be? Jekyll says, “Coursing through our veins is the river of our old ways, before man created mortality…”

In modern society is there an encroaching pressure to be “normal”? The idea of behavior being controlled by pharmacology is rampant: if we are a little odd or emotional or overly social or not happy enough our chemistry should be altered to bring us back to “normal.” As Jekyll explains to Utterson, “If we could find the chemical balance that would isolate these rages, these horrors, wouldn’t we pursue their cure?”

What is unique about Jeffrey Hacther’s adaptation is that it veers away from the black and white notion of Jekyll as all good and Hyde as all evil. They each are complex: Hyde feels love for Elizabeth, Jekyll’s pride and vanity make him hate Carew; Hyde wants to sacrifice himself for the life of Elizabeth, but Jekyll is ready to forsake her to save his own…HIDE. With four Hydes roaming the stage and gradations of good and bad in each character, the play points up the notion that we all have a dual personality and it is nurture, not nature, that brings out different aspects of each of us. 

The backdrop of the play is Victorian London, a time of great discovery and change but also a time of turmoil and huge disparity between the classes. For instance, the median age of death of a person of means was about 45—while the median age of a poor person was 25. Poor, uneducated people—especially poor women—had few choices in working and living opportunities. The housing and sewage conditions for the poor were deplorable—disease and crime were rampant. The life of a servant offered better living conditions—but the pay was miniscule and the hours slave-like. Many turned to prostitution, grave-robbing, and pick-pocketing before they would give up and go to the worst place in London—the Poor House. 

The medical profession was just expanding to include specialists for ailments like lung disease which was an epidemic from the pollution and factory work. The introduction of ether into the medical repertoire made child birth and surgery much easier. A doctor like Jekyll would have been associated with one of the teaching and research hospitals for the poor. Most people of means had doctors come to their homes for exams, leeching, childbirth, or surgery. Both Jekyll and Hyde the book and the play highlight this class disparity and highlight the importance for a man like Jekyll to maintain his good social standing within the community and his profession.

It is important to remember that the first readers of the novella had no idea that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. There is speculation that Stevenson meant for his readers to think that Jekyll—a bachelor who had taken a great interest in this young man Hyde—was actually having a homosexual affair with Hyde and being blackmailed by him for money and protection. Apparently this was a common scheme at the time—to blackmail a man to cover up his gay affairs—even if he wasn’t having them! However, the important point is that when Lanyon sees Hyde turn back into Jekyll, it was as much a shock to the readers as it is to Lanyon. 

Hatcher has borrowed Stevenson’s technique of using collected testimony, diary entries, and newspaper accounts to make the narrative more true and real. This technique serves the suspense, as the individual narrators do not know the outcome of the story. The veracity of the testimonies is further endorsed by the reliability of the witnesses—two doctors and a lawyer who use their professional expertise to investigate the mystery that surrounds them like a detective story, trying to get to the bottom of Jekyll’s will, his strange association with the mysterious Hyde, and the murder of Carew. The sensational outcome of the mystery is enhanced by the fact that the horror not only occurs within London but within a respectable member of society. 

Our design pushes the envelope of the period, and the set and costumes and lights and sound will have a more modern nuance to them, which will make the production more visceral and vivid and theatrical. However, we are going to embrace the melodrama of the horror story, and its surprise and violence, and hopefully get a few gasps and groans and even some nervous laughter in the process. Most of all, even though our audience certainly knows the answer to the mystery, I hope they will still be riveted by this very human story and come along for the ride as if they don’t know what’s going to happen.

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