True to the Synetic tradition of breathing new life into classic tales, the theatre company’s world premiere of Jekyll and Hyde is a virtual master class in how to meld intense choreographed movement with stunning set/light/sound/video design and original music to create a visually and aurally stunning production. When a strong ensemble of actor-dancers executes Irina Tsikurkishvili’s modern, yet classically-infused choreography with precision and raw purposeful emotion, the production becomes even more satisfying. While there are several issues in how Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of good vs. evil has been adapted for the stage in this incarnation, the end result is still most satisfying.
Under the direction of Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvilli, the 11-member cast explodes on the Crystal City stage. Every ensemble member- Jace Casey, Chris Galindo, Austin Johnson, Julian Elijah Martinez, Karen A. Morales-Chacana, and Emily Whitworth- is one piece of an intricate puzzle to create Jekyll and Hyde’s world through dance. The ensemble, always a highlight in any Synetic show, is the crucial glue that holds the show together. Likewise, Peter Pereyra (Lanyon) and Darren Marquardt (Father) make a strong acting contribution in their supporting roles.
However, three principal actors also make this show a must-see. As Jekyll’s sweet and innocent fiancée, Brittany O’Grady is charming, charismatic, and makes a great scene partner for Alex Mills (in the title role). Their chemistry- whether in good or bad moments- is palpable. Mills’ eager take on the mad scientist, Jekyll, who wants to separate the good parts of the soul from the evil parts of the soul is in stunning contrast to his ‘on-the-edge-of-a-cliff’ take on the dark and twisted murderous Hyde. His athleticism, as he jumps off of platforms and does mind-blowing acrobatic choreography on all areas of the stage, is a marvel, but what impressed me more was that he was able to handle both of these characters equally well from an acting standpoint. When Mills is on stage, it’s almost impossible to watch anyone else. It’s been apparent for years that he’s a strong actor-dancer, but this is certainly his best role to date.
The new revelation for me, however, was Rebecca Hausman as the young stripper that enthralls Hyde, but meets a deadly end. Her dark and vulnerable portrayal of the wounded character is a standout in this production. She demonstrates tremendous, understated acting talent and is a very commanding dancer to boot. This role marks her Synetic debut and it’s definitely a strong one.
As is usual, Synetic also excels with the production design. Beyond Irina Tsikurishvilli’s choreography and Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s original music (which never get old for me), several other design elements deserve attention. Daniel Pinha’s scaffolding-heavy modern set functions as Jekyll’s laboratory, clubs, and several other venues. It can easily transform in the matter of seconds and is a virtual playground for the actors. Chelsey Schuller’s costumes are outrageously punk and add to the eerie atmosphere. There’s a good use of multiple textures and colors. Lortkipanidze and Irakli Kavsadze’s sound design, as well as Andrew F. Griffin’s lighting design, are far from subtle- which is just perfect for this intense story. Multimedia master Riki Kim outdoes herself with her innovative use of video screens. The use of the screens in the climatic last scene, when coupled with Mills’ solid acting, offers us one of the most gut-wrenching and nightmarish moments of the evening (I won’t spoil it).
Where this production lacks, however, is in the story arc. True, Jekyll and Hyde is a classic tale and there’s not much “new” to say about it, although Nathan Weinberger and Paata Tsikurishvilli’s adaptation does offer some plot twists (which I won’t spoil). However, this adaptation largely lacks a discernible dramatic arc in many of the “middle” scenes even though the final scene does offer a very good climax. A good bulk of the middle portion of the play allows the audience to witness the struggle between Jekyll and Hyde for control of events, but the struggle is physically more of the same until the final scene. Without the use of words, it’s difficult to see the differences between the various situations the two central characters encounter and how it’s affecting them and those around them.