Dr. Heidi Jekyll at Slipstream

Today, let us discuss Dr. Heidi Jekyll…

Dr. Heidi Jekyll, a play written and directed by Luna Alexander & Victoria Weatherspoon was a lovely production.

 a modern retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic about duality and temptation, Slipstream (source)

Context:

Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish author writing just before the turn of the century. He wrote immortal works like Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. 

The latter was arguably his most popular work and perhaps the last before he died. By the time of his death over 250,000 copies were sold in the U.S (Middleton, 9).

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is available at Project Gutenberg. 

A summary is available through Wikipedia:

Jekyll & Hyde Summary:

  1. There are rumors of a wicked man who has an acquaintance with Dr. Henry Jekyll.
  2. When confronted, Dr. Jekyll laughs away his association with Mr. Hyde
  3. There is a murder  of Sir Danvers Carew involving the man known as Mr. Hyde
  4. Jekyll promises not to associate with Hyde anymore
  5. Lanyon’s health deteriorates for unknown reasons; he entrusts Mr. Utterson with a letter to be opened after Dr. Jekyll’s death/disappearance
  6. Utterson finds Jekyll dead from apparent suicide with a letter for him
  7. Utterson reads the letters
  8. Lanyon assists Hyde by feeding him the formula that transforms him back into Jekyll. Witnessing this unnatural event caused his decline in health
  9. The transformations continue to occur without the aid of the formula until Dr. Jekyll permanently transforms into Mr. Hyde
  10. They die

So that is the tale as it stood.

Literary Context:

The Enlightenment, (1685-1815) whose thinkers influenced writing and philosophy away from that of the supernatural and into the realm of the rational, the reasonable. Events like the Industrial Revolution in Europe lead to the mechanization of the labor force, created vast machines, and incorporated scientific methods.  Romanticism (19th Century) was a reaction against these influences exploring the human spirit, individuality, subjectivity, and, perhaps most importantly, the unknown.

Writers like Stevenson, H.P. Lovecraft, author of the Cthulu Mythos, and Charles Brockden Brown, author of the proto-novel Wieland or The Transformation: An American Tale are examples of the trend away from the known and the knowable. Their protagonists are confronted by forces they cannot see, nor control, learn truths about the nature of their universe that they cannot fully comprehend and work with imperfect knowledge and often die or go mad.

Take Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus as a well known example. In the narrative, the protagonist reanimates a corpse with the aid of an unknown scientific development mixed with arcane knowledge (the study of ancient philosophers and alchemists). In popular culture/media the common belief is that the titular character’s monster is resurrected using electricity harnessed from lightning, but this is not accurate. In the novella, there is no exact method given. The reason professed is that the author is afraid someone would mimic their work and lead to another inevitable tragedy. The same device is used in H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance whereby a scientist discovers a method for becoming invisible. However, he does not set it down for fear that someone would mimic it and gain the power that he alone possesses. The device is used again in Jekyll & Hyde where the ingredients of the concoction are not set down by Dr. Jekyll. The reason being when he attempts to recreate the potion, he fails due to some unknown and non-reproducible element. In the absolute dread someone may try anyway, he destroys his research.

Themes & Motifs:

  • Good vs. evil. Can Hyde truly be called evil if it is in his nature? Can Dr. Jekyll be innocent if he chooses to indulge Hyde’s ferocity?
  • Control: Can Hyde control his behavior and his deeds? Dr. Jekyll takes the potion to unleash Hyde until a point in the narrative where Hyde comes and goes without it.

Also some slight specism/racism with the idea that pre-humans were inherently less moral than their homo sapiens sapiens counterparts. He was a writer not a saint.

The Play:

Dramatis Personae:

Mandy Lodgson

  • Dr. Heidi “Jeks” Jekyll  – a talented doctor, who struggles with alcohol addiction, did some bad things back in the day, but is coping with the help of her A.A. meetings

Laura Heikennen

  • Hyde – Dr. Jekyll’s alter ego, her addictive persona, has a lot of snark and a lot of hate pointed at Jekyll, kept contained and under control through songs and chants, tends to hurt people, but doesn’t always remember

Ryan Ernst

  • Mr. Utterson – the Picasso of “circumstantial evidence”, is able to get anybody off for any reason, old friend of “Jeks”, wants to help
  • Mr. Poole – a pompous, middle-management bureaucrat, Dr. Jekyll’s handler, only interested in the good of the company
  • Dr. Carew – the big fish, multi-million dollar investor, confident, collected, happily married with a homosexual lover, old mentor to Dr. Jekyll

Steve Xander Carson

  • Mr. “Dick” Enfield – the sleeziest cop you can imagine, literally named himself “Dick”, knows all of the gossip in town, friends with Utterson, just a terrible person
  • Mr. Guest – lover of Dr. Carew, old friend of Utterson & Jekyll, was burned by “Hyde” one too many times, outed to his family, a delight to be around, but tragic
  • Dr. Lanyon – cool, fun doctor, Dr. Jekyll’s crush, always a little bit close, borders on romantic, but never seems to dive in, there is a hesitancy there

Aristotle argued plot was the most important part of tragedy and spectacle the least. I would like to reverse that and go in reverse order of his Poetics.

Opsis:

Spectacle. The playing space was divided into four specific areas:

  1. Dr. Jekyll’s office (left)
  2. Dr. Jekyll’s apartment (center)
  3. Dr. Carew’s home office (right)
  4. Generalized playing area (front)

The office was suggested with a painted back wall, a degree hanging in a frame, and made complete with a desk, rolling chair(s), trash bin, assorted geeky paraphernalia, in/out box, etc. The desk looked too small to belong in an office, more like an end table. It seemed entirely too rickety to serve as a desk for the top doctor at a major pharmaceutical firm or to be the main meeting place of Dr. Jekyll (Jeks for short), Dr. Lanyon, & Mr. Poole to gather around. However, the touches of geek finery like a troll doll, a Stretch-Armstrong, etc. cluttering the already too small working space made it really delightful. Shared sandwiches at this tiny desk made it seem like maybe this was only an up and coming corporation, literally chomping at the bit to climb up the Fortune 500.

Dr. Jekyll’s apartment was a single table, two chairs, with various appliances/accessories. It felt very bare bones, while on occasion being filled to bursting. One such scene: an entire pasta dinner was prepared by Jeks for her friends Utterson & Lanyon. We got the full treatment: table cloth, dishes, silverware, cloth napkins, tongs, hot plate, stockpot, strainer was set up prior to the scene. It all went sideways when the gentlemen did not show and Hyde started putting dishes, napkins, and plates into the pasta dish. At first it was deeply upsetting because she was ruining something Jekyll had made. Then, it got weird because it looked like they were setting up for a scene change. All of the breakables were thrown into the pasta dish. Everything else was gathered in the table cloth to be deposited backstage. It was a great stage moment when Hyde began putting things into the pasta. It strained credulity by the time Hyde started angrily putting away the dishes. She was the opposite of helpful in the scene, why would she suddenly assist Jekyll with the removal of dinner?

What was interesting was the design between the playing areas. Each of the areas were contained within the lighting and splotches of color lining the back walls. However, the color would end after a few feet entering into black, unpolished, theatrical space. It seemed to suggest that these were islands of places, pulled from their original area and placed on this stage. This was very apparent entering into the third area.

For the first two areas, I didn’t think separating them by use of the black was particularly effective. I understood that they were differentiated areas, so for utilitarian reasons, it worked. Aesthetically, I did not appreciate the choice. When you have a very stylized piece, realistic set pieces, but an abstracted connective playing area, it can feel disconnected. That was the case for the right half of the stage. However, on the left half we had:

Dr. Carew’s home office, filled with two plush chairs, side bar, lamp, painted walls, moulding (with the English “u”). I was most struck by how well-to-do this third of the stage felt compared with the sparseness of the rest of it. Out of the whole space, Dr. Carew’s home felt like it was lifted directly out of a house and just placed in theatrical space, nestled for me to see. I loved the black wash if for only that section. My eye kept travelling to that side of the stage for how “homey” it felt. I was surprised at how good furniture and some choice colors could create a sense of warmth and familiarity that comes with old homes. It was really quite something.

The fourth space had very little form or structure to it. It was used for Dr. Carew’s party, Dr. Jekyll’s confessionals, and the end image. There were some folding chairs that entered the space on occasion, but very little else to define it.

With regards to lighting: each of the areas had a localized wash with a few specials. The lamps were all practicals, which I always appreciate. There is something deeply satisfying about the click of a lamp when an actor controls it as opposed to a board.

By the end of the play none of the set pieces were left onstage. All of the pieces were whisked away as a resounding choral crescendo built up to the sparseness of the stage. We were left with the three splotches of colored wall lining the playing space and the actors in a line at the foot of the stage. They each were handed a folding chair and they slammed them down onto the floor and sat, completing the image of an Alocholics Anonymous meeting. It was easily the most powerful image story of the play and clearly what the entire piece was built around. It was deeply cathartic and a great moment in theatre.

Melos:

Melody. The chorus of the piece were the four actors involved in the production: Mandy Logsdon, Laura Heikennen, Ryan Ernst, & Steve Xander Carson. Each of them was a part of the chorus, but special emphasis must be paid to the two male actors, Ernst and Carson seeing as they were playing multiple roles.

Regardless, each of the actors pulled double duty as both

  1. their characters &
  2. serving the action of a chorus.

A chorus in classic theatre was meant to provide context, give exposition or challenge/support the authority figure. They did this through song, through dance, and through the Chorus Leader acting as scene partner for the characters of the play.

In this production, the improvised chorus moved the scenery and set pieces in a semi-stylized dance that felt like a whirlwind toward the end of the piece. During the major climaxes the actors would create a soundscape of whispers/moments from either their character’s lives or survivor’s testimonials talking about their trauma and how hard it was to live with addiction. It created a sensory depth to the piece that is rarely explored in theatre of the area.

Lexis:

Diction. The language of the piece was really quite fun. Historically, original works done at Slipstream T.I. tend to have a lot of fun with their texts, working in pop culture references either directly into the script or through their work on improvised jokes. It creates a lively energy that is hard to duplicate any other way and Dr. Heidi Jekyll was no exception. Laced with profanity and with delightful characters the language of the piece really shined.

Several parts that I wish to highlight were held primarily by the character of Hyde, portrayed by Laura Heikennen. Disregarding her performance for a moment until we discuss character, there were several moments that completely wracked the form and structure of the play without disrupting the feel of the overall piece.

One of those moments was when she discussed the new and experimental drug that Dr. Jekyll (Logsdon) was trying to persuade Dr. Cardew (Ernst) into purchasing. It was a long and lengthy list that I cannot for the life of me remember, but included something like death, blindness, sterility, and in some cases anal leakage. It was so extensive it probably took up a full minute and a half of real stage time and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was sublime to listen to and made the play a wonderful menagerie of possibilities.

Another instance of beautifully fragmented language was at the end of the play, after Dr. Jekyll awakes from her night of drinking. She can in no way remember where she was or what she did since Hyde took control. She begs Hyde to recall for her. In that moment Hyde, who is also traumatized, attempts to communicate. It is apparent that she doesn’t remember well either, which is a more disturbing possibility than any adaptation I have hitherto seen. We assume that the Hulk remembers what Dr. Bannon does not. We assume our demons know what they are doing. Instead, a broken remembering of the previous night escapes Hyde’s lips and it is unclear that she has any idea at all of what really happened. She only has a hazy sense that she did something wrong, whereas the audience remembers it exactly. It almost compels the audience to fill in those gaps, but what can we do? It was truly disturbing.

Conversely, there were several instances where Jeks/Jekyll (Logsdon) spoke in direct address to the audience either from a fold out chair or while standing, conveying her story and how hard it is to continue from day to day, the abuses that she caused other people, and the fact that they won’t answer her messages. She occasionally called one of Carson’s characters (Mr. Lanyon?) to apologize for them. In these instances, the language and circumstances, while realistic, felt totally alien to the whole. They were divergent and broke the logic of the piece, particularly when you take into consideration the final image of the play: We are witnessing the story of an A.A. meeting. Therefore, unless some of the previous A.A. meetings were also a part of the story or meaningfully impacted it in some way, why bring them up in the telling? OR why occasionally break the logic of the play to directly address the audience? Maybe it was building a theme, but it felt clunky compared with that final image.

Nevertheless, something really remarkable happened when Jeks addressed the audience. She entered the general playing space at the front of the stage and said, “Hello, my name, is Heidi.”

The audience would respond, “Hello, Heidi.”

I was completely thrown. And then, I realized that this is the ritual. I discovered what they were building with the piece: a vehicle for confession, an A.A. meeting.  I have no personal connection or knowledge to addiction or the treatment thereof. My grandfather drank himself to death and so I avoid addiction at all costs. I found out that this was the accepted format for a meeting and I remember thinking What a wonderful thing. The audience felt strongly enough about the subject matter to engage with it like a meeting. What a wonderful thing.

Dianoia:

Thought. Thought and reason seemed secondary to the physical and emotional events of the piece. However, there are some things that we may conclude.

“Story is the illustration of an idea through action.”

Therefore, how the play resolves and unfolds will tell us something about the ideas in the play.

The seed of Dr. Heidi Jekyll seems to be addiction. It is certainly the major device of the piece. However, it is not present in every character; Carew is not addicted to money and Enfield is not addicted to crime (although he certainly seems addicted to gossip). Therefore, the seed cannot be addiction.  Nevertheless, since addiction is so prevalent, they are probably related.

However, upon seeing the show, reflecting on it weeks later, I am still not entirely sure what the seed might be. If not addiction, then health? Care? Well-being? Sickness? Love?

The argument of the play is indicated by the resulting action. So what is the resulting action?

The final image is simply Jeks sitting in a folding chair, being held by her alter ego, Hyde, while Carson and Ernst sit in varying states of undress, staring dumbfounded into space. Jeks turns to the audience and says, “Thank you for letting me share.” From that image, it is impossible to say what is the import of the argument.

  • Is Jeks in rehab/these meetings by court order?
  • Did she confess?
  • Does she go to prison?
  • Does she let her friend group disperse?
  • Does she pick up the pieces?

All that we are left with after is that she told this story to her A.A. group (who we can now assume are complicit in a murder).

So what has Jekyll done by the end of the piece?

  1. Jekyll has broken her abstinence
  2. Killed a person
  3. Obstructed justice
  4. Tampered with evidence

It is unclear if she will:

  1. Help her friend
  2. Confess
  3. Stand trial
  4. Reconcile with Hyde

These are not the actions of a noble hero. These are the actions of someone attempting to escape criminality whatever the cost. Even though she was “out of control” it is still her fault. She begins the play as she ended it. Addiction drives those you love away. Those suffering from addiction reach out, but don’t pursue those people because they believe they are better off. It seems like the only place Jekyll receives any form of peace is in the A.A. meetings. Which may be the only logical conclusion of the argument of the play.

 

 

It would seem that nobody escapes their demons forever, that nobody can do it alone, and that in a crisis, we need friends and without them, we find support elsewhere.

 

Ethos:

Character.

Mandy Logsdon

  • Dr. Heidi “Jeks” Jekyll  – Logsdon’s performance was really very lovely. I am reminded of a mother always keeping her child in check. Mandy’s tight-lipped approach to Hyde, her pursed lips, tense eyes, and rubbing of her temples intimate a strained business woman on the verge of a mental breakdown and Hyde’s antics always one step away from driving her over the edge. She was deeply friendly, could switch on a dime to domineering (in the case of Mr. Poole), and had a lot of very tender and sincere moments when it came time for the confessionals.

Laura Heikennen

  • Hyde – Heikennen’s performance was very interesting. She played Jekyll’s alter ego, but due to the script it was unclear if she was a voice in her head, another aspect/personality to Jekyll, or a manifestation of the addiction. We as audience don’t need a hard answer, but it was left to the performer and designer to decide. Hyde is dressed similarly to Jekyll, but stylized, more sexy, more confident and that is how Heikennen portrays Hyde. She goes from being a willful child to being the prettier, younger version of Jekyll, the one she wants to be. Heikennen fights for stage time having very few lines and in fewer scenes, instead showing us her personal frustrations with Jekyll in the background of the scenes. Her speeches were wonderful and heartbreaking, humanizing Hyde in a way I rarely see and providing some much needed relief in a play full of tears.

Ryan Ernst

  • Mr. Utterson – makes only a few appearances, but is particularly memorable at the end of the piece. His ability to plead for innocence is matched only by his corruption. He is a delightfully flawed and contradictory character and Ernst plays him like a fiddle. It is wonderful to see a guy holding a bloody piece of evidence asking for a break with Ernst’s charm and self-deprecation.
  • Mr. Poole – stole the show. There is always one character and Ernst had him. Coming out with tufted hair, glasses, and a high-pitched whine, Poole rode Jekyll to the point where she dragged him out in a chair and closed the door in his face. None of us blamed her, but I still wanted him to stay. One of my favorite performances I’ve seen.
  • Dr. Carew – Ernst really showed some character chops when he switched to Carew. To go from the prissy Poole to the confident and senior Carew was fine work indeed. Carew had little enough stage time, but his gravitas was apparent and his ability to go between the characters showed wonderful technique

Steve Xander Carson

  • Mr. “Dick” Enfield – this guy could literally have his own show. Carson’s performance as “Dick” made the price of admission within the first ten seconds of the show. He was so damn funny, showing once again that Carson, while a great leading man, is a phenomenal character actor.
  • Mr. Guest – a remarkably warm and under played performance of Carson’s. I was really surprised because I have never seen his take on a far more reasonable character. The wit and charm brought to this role made it very apparent how and why Jekyll might fall in love with him. Carson really shines in the few scenes where he plays this role.
  • Dr. Lanyon – this was one of the weaker performances in the entire show for me. Lanyon started out as delightful. He shows up, brings his own glasses in a doctor’s bag, has fun, sassy dialogue and then slips into tears at the mere mention of Hyde’s name. He seems either too close to the trauma or dwells on it too much to warrant such a gut wrenching reaction. Nevertheless, the fun and joie de vivre that Carson brings to the role is amazing.

Mythos:

Plot.

Inciting Incident:

  1. Utterson, Lanyon, & Carew cut off their ties to Jeks

Summary/Plot:

  1. Utterson hears a rumor from Enfield about a scandal involving someone named Hyde
  2. Utterson goes to see Lanyon and asks after Jeks (known to them as Hyde), says they should see her again
  3. Jeks prepares dinner for Lanyon/Utterson (neither show)
  4. Poole/Layton pressure Jeks into getting her mentor Carew to invest in their company
  5. Jeks goes to Carew’s party
  6. Jeks calls Lanyon because she is nervous (doesn’t answer)
  7. Jeks drinks because Lanyon doesn’t answer
  8. Jeks drinks because Carew won’t sign if she doesn’t
  9. Hyde drinks to excess and threatens Carew
  10. Hyde murders Carew
  11. Jeks asks for help
  12. Utterson agrees to help because he feels guilty
  13. Evidence is found implicating Jeks
  14. Utterson is wrongly incarcerated
  15. Utterson asks for help (Jeks does not move)
  16. Jeks attends an A.A. meeting

Analysis:

The case could be made that Jekyll is not the protagonist of this piece and that it is in fact Utterson.

Starting with the concept of hamartia, which is a staple of the classic Grecian tragedy:

hamartia: “tragic flaw” OR “missing the mark”

Jekyll’s hamartia is indicated by her addiction. Hamartia is a tragic flaw that all but misses the mark, meaning it is not enough for someone to be addicted. The addiction is indicative of something e.g. so much joy in their lives they have to celebrate everything to the point of excess (Caligula), or needs to keep their mind occupied constantly in order to escape boredom (Sherlock). Therefore, it is not addiction, but what is Jekyll’s harmartia?

Next, her hamartia is literally made manifest onstage in the character of Hyde as performed by Heikenen. In the tradition of Theatre of the Oppressed as founded by Augusto Boal, she acts much like the Cop in the Head, whereby Jekyll’s inner struggles can be made physical or audio-visual for the audience in real time. This is a well-established tradition and a very effective tool for illustrating inner-conflict and oppression. However, there are some issues here.

As stated earlier, Jekyll oppresses Hyde by chants and songs, but sometimes Hyde can manifest. Hyde oppresses Jekyll by:

  • saying mean-spirited things and demoralizing Jekyll
  • moving/putting objects where they don’t belong (physical agency?)
  • switching with Jekyll and ostensibly taking over the “body” they share when Jekyll gets drunk

Finally, her hamartia is based solely on temptation, which means that the only way that it can be explored is by succumbing to it. If that is the case, then the tipping point for the play turns on Carew’s signature being withheld until Jekyll drinks. She must drink in order to have what she wants. But, what does she want? Carew’s signature. Why? So she can keep her job? She doesn’t seem to like it much. Security? Control?

If Carew’s death is the climax of the play, then that means that Jekyll is completely removed from the climax, she’s out of control and it is Hyde’s choice to kill Carew. Therefore, she is not the protagonist.

Some might argue that Hyde and Jekyll are two sides to the same protagonist. The argument could be made then that they are both responsible or to blame for the ending that we see.  If we accept that Jekyll and Hyde are two sides of the same “macro”-character then their hamartia and desires must be aligned in the final dramatic conflict. It is clear they do not want to kill Carew, that was an accident. They both want the signature, right? Do they both want control? Do they both want to be out of control?

If it is the case, then it is very unclear. Jekyll spends so much of her time isolating Hyde and Hyde spends so much of her time acting out that they are more antagonistic to one another than anything. Jekyll acts like an overworked mother and Hyde like a petulant child. Their desires could not be more different where Jekyll wishes for Hyde to vanish and Hyde simply wishes to play.

Utterson

Utterson, on the other hand, is a well-meaning lawyer. He wants to help people no matter what. He is a bleeding heart in a world of cut throats. He feels bad that he abandoned his sick friend and insists everyone take pity on her. When she is in the worst way, he offers to help and goes so far as to tamper with evidence. Utterson is helpful to the point of illegality and pays the price for it. So with regards to hamartia his is helping beyond helpful.

With regards to the climax of the piece, it is him that goes to save Jeks at the end of the piece, him that gets caught, and him that gets incarcerated by his corrupt cop friend. He even calls for help from Jeks at the end of the piece, but she is so distraught that she doesn’t answer the phone. He suffers the greatest loss: that of his freedom.

Jekyll on the other hand is in the same position as she was at the beginning of the play: at odds with her inner demon and responsible for trauma she cannot remember. The only thing that has changed are her outside circumstances, namely that she has murdered someone. It is unclear from the result if she has even lost her job at the end of the piece.

The Point

I am not actually arguing that Jekyll or Hyde should not be the protagonist of the piece, only that from a classical tragic bent, the play feels unfinished and for it to end where it did, the perspective would need to change. There are so many questions left to be asked of the characters and how they reacted that we never get to see. There is much that we do not know and still more that could be done. As someone who has accidentally walked out on the third act of Richard III, thinking the play was over, I have similar feelings after this piece.

Relevance:

Science is rapidly outpacing regulations and law. Hereditary research organizations now have the ability to store, collect, and share DNA samples not only with their patrons, but also with any and all commercial/research institutions that they see fit. For the nightmare version of this, read this editorial written by Joel Winston at Think Progress. Now, it is unlikely that this has actually occurred, in fact, the BBC reported that Ancestry.com denies such abuses occurred and even has updated their terms and conditions to reflect the position that any and all DNA samples/results from the research is the sole ownership of the person donating the sample (source). The point is less that it does happen and more that it could.

The same is true digitally. In an era where online harassment and abuse goes largely under policed and under supervised. Just look at the whopping FBI file that is Gamergate and realize that out of four reported suspects, only three were interviewed, two were interrogated & confessed, and none prosecuted. In an article published only three days ago from the writing of this, an article entitled: After years of GamerGate harassment, Brianna Wu’s still fighting reports that:

As best as I can count, there are 18,000 FBI agents working in the United States and exactly zero of them are tasked with prosecuting these kinds of [harassment] crimes. Danielle Citron, who is the pre-eminent legal scholar in the world on [cyberstalking and online harassment], ran the numbers. It was something like, out of 5 million cases in the last three years, she was able to find 17 cases of people going before a judge because of it.

Control is slipping away from the experts, society is scared of what might come next or what people might be doing with this information.  I would argue that this piece is important for the canon, that these themes need to be addressed and that we are at a primed point in our history to reexamine these ideas. Dr. Heidi Jekyll is, therefore, important given that context.

Conclusion:

The play was well-acted and designed with efficiency and grace. However, ultimately I found the production to be simplistic.

At the end of Jekyll & Hyde the audience are left with a city wracked with the trauma of a scientist pushing past the natural limits of his craft. Their social group is dead or disbanded. None are unaffected by it and the story needs to be buried so that none may attempt it again. The audience is complicit in the action and must not tell a soul. So naturally the story spread like wild-fire.

Conversely, at the end of Dr. Heidi Jekyll the audience are left with a cathartic moment of an A.A. meeting where Jeks suffers a social “death” where she can only unpack her story to them. It is unclear where we are to go from here, but not because there was nothing to be done or Jekyll was caught up in a system of oppression, internal or otherwise. Instead, it was the clearest moment of the play where she can and should have done something. I was deeply frustrated as an audient.

Stepping away from my own ego though, I must adamantly say that people were moved by this piece. The audience swelled to its feet and many tears were shed. People applauded and stayed for half an hour after the show to discuss with the actors their experiences. While I can respond to the play and the performance, I think it is also important to acknowledge the general feel for the event. People loved it. I spoke with someone who had never seen Slipstream theatre before and was a veteran of the stage admire the ferocity of their fans. I am inclined to agree. My suggestion is read the play, buy it, see it if you can, support your local artists and make up your own mind.

Bibliography:

Chicago : National Prtg. & Engr. Co.Modifications by Papa Lima Whiskey – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3g08267.

John Singer Sargent – http://www.artrenewal.org/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1714188

“Project Gutenberg.” Project Gutenberg. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2017.

Tim Middleton, Introduction to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: The Merry Men and Other Stories, Wordsworth Editions, 1993, pp. 9

 

 

 

 

 

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B is for Bullshit

B is for Bullshit. Capital Buh-

I wrote a not so good stream of consciousness post not very long ago about this very issue when it comes to the theatre and, in particular, reviews:

Critical Response (Why Everyone Hates Reviews…Fuck ’em)

I thought I said everything in that blog post. But, it just keeps coming up. So let me address something that has been on my mind for a while now: Bullshit.

Bullshit:

usually vulgar

  1. :nonsense; especially:  foolish insolent talk

I’m tired of bullshit in the theatre. Endstop.

What do I mean by bullshit? Let’s do a run down of some of the theatre reviews. Let’s do Detroit (c. 2017)

Detroit:

  1. Slipstream brings zany French farce to Detroit-centric ‘Nain Rouge’
  2. MOT’s ‘Girl of the Golden West’ is gold indeed
  3. Purple Rose tackles marital truths in ‘Vino Veritas’
  4. ‘1984’ feels very 2017 at The Williamston Theatre
  5. Outvisible shines with Mamet’s ‘Oleanna’
  6. World Premiere: ‘Clutter’ at Theatre Nova exposes the pain of no do-overs in marriage
  7. ‘Disgraced’ at The Jet is rough, real and revelatory
  8. UDM’s ‘Avenue Q’ a sharp-edged hoot at The Boll Theatre
  9. Premiere: ‘Capital’ good time at Detroit Rep
  10. Riverbank’s ‘Shrek’ a fairy good time

These are the top 10 newest reviews for Encore Michigan, the region’s only review website.

Full disclosure, I know a lot of these people. I even like a lot of these people, but if the last 10 shows were all unequivocal successes, I’ll eat my shoe.

Nain:

For optimum enjoyment of Nain Rouge, it may be best to surrender one’s sense of disbelief and any strict reliance on plotlines. Farces are meant to be enjoyed, not understood.

Golden West: “gold indeed” it’s in the title, mate.

Vino:

Unfortunately, the staging of this significant reveal feels clunky. Lauren re-enters but stops short, as if to eavesdrop, despite being in Ridley’s and Claire’s line of vision. In this way, logistic questions – like, if the wine makes you tell the truth, wouldn’t Lauren’s presence not affect Phil’s words? – threatened to distract attention from one of the play’s defining moments.

Would you look at that! I’m just about ready to eat my shoes.

But the play sticks the landing, with as satisfying an ending as you could hope for.

…Never mind

1984:

Director Tony Caselli deserves credit for these key shifts in his actors that give this production an intensity and intelligent interpretation. He paints a chilling picture from the very beginning and uses the staging and pacing to communicate the fear that is ever-present in this world. He knows when to build things up to a point of suspense and when to provide the audience with some relief, though don’t expect many laughs during this presentation.

Mamet:

The play flies by in one act at just over an hour. Get to the theatre a few minutes early and you can hit the Dairy Queen just the other side of the parking lot.

Clutter:

The writing here is razor sharp and the acting is more than up to doing it justice.

Disgraced:

The script and this production are is brilliant, taut and razor sharp. The 90 minutes flies by.

Avenue Q:

The cast is truly strong across the board, there is no weak link in either acting or singing.

Good Time:

The Rep’s compact stage doesn’t lend itself to run-around comedy but the cast manages pretty well and some moments are especially choice:

Shrek: Come on! This is Shrek!

There were a few musical moments when the mic balance was not ideal, and there were a couple scene changes that could have been a bit smoother, but that is not what audiences will remember. They may not even leave the theatre raving about the music, which felt incidental to the story in many places. They will, however, be talking about how thoroughly funny this show was, how many times they laughed aloud, how the little details brought the characters to life. There is no better way than humor to teach a wise lesson: don’t ever judge a person on outward appearance.

Fucking SHREK?! Really??

What about New York?

New York:

Aladdin

If a genie had sprung from my teakettle last week and offered to grant me three wishes, I might impulsively have asked to be spared any more children’s musicals. Since a certain blockbuster feline arrived well over a decade ago, Broadway has been lapped by wave after wave of big, often gloppy songfests adapted from animated movies, mostly from the mother ship, Disney.

So the prospect of “Aladdin,” promising another weary night in the presence of a spunky youngster and wisecracking animals, didn’t exactly set my heart racing. But this latest musical adapted from one of Disney’s popular movies, which opened on Thursday night at the New Amsterdam Theater, defied my dour expectations.

The Broadway version of “Aladdin” sticks to the movie’s formula, but also infuses the conventions of the genre with a breezy insouciance that scrubs away some of the material’s bland gloss.

We can’t even speak ill of the Disney babies?!

Amelie

This mild-mannered musical adaptation of the famously divisive 2001 French film is unlikely to inspire similarly passionate responses.

I was like! Yes! Finally! Some serious critical reviews here.

Instead I get:

it is pleasant to look at, easy to listen to and oddly recessive. It neither offends nor enthralls.

WHAT IS THAT?

Now, this is not a call to “bash”. I don’t want people to be torn apart in reviews, far from it. But, vigorous, spirited conversation is what I hope the people want to read and what we want to engage in. If I read “pleasant to look at, easy to listen, and oddly recessive,” I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Let me recommend the reviews for Clutter, Vino, and 1984 in particular. They are quite good reviews. And, to be honest, the New York Times does do good reviews, they can afford to go into much more detail and I know much less about the theatre scene in their area than I do in mine.

Let me recommend Nain Rouge @ Slipstream, Oleanna @ Outvisible, 1984 @ Williamston, & Clutter, oh and Good Times. Those are strong companies with solid work.

My point is this: not everyone is going to produce gold every time. Not if what they are aiming at is art. If we can’t speak truthfully about a theatrical event without letting bullshit get in the way.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Shrek really was a great musical as it is billed to be and as the reviewer seems to think. Who knows? But, if in the damn review it says: 

They may not even leave the theatre raving about the music, which felt incidental to the story in many places.

Then, it wasn’t a very good musical was it?!

Simply say that! I enjoyed it, it was fun because it was funny, not a good musical. Here are some specifics.

People’s trust in main stream media, news sources, and enthusiast press are steadily declining. I don’t think that journalism is any worse than it was. However, I do feel like we dance around the issues at hand when it comes to our enthusiast press simply because we are afraid of something.

Normally I’ve got hope for the end of my blog posts, but today I’m just tuckered. So I’ll leave you with this:

Let’s do better.

 

The Grinch!

Let me tell you about Christmas:

Nobody gets Christmas like I do.

See, Christmas, is wholly and completely consumed by capitalism.

See, back in the way back when, we had this little thing called “Sol Invictus” or “Saturnalius” depending on whether your gods wore togas or drank mead from skulls. Anyway, it was all about the long cold winters and the fear, the very real fear that everything would die in the dark and in the cold without the light of the sun.

Because every year, people didn’t know if the sun was coming back or not.

So on December Twenty-Five , the longest and coldest day of the year, everyone would huddle around, cut boughs off evergreens, bring them inside, and pray that the sun would return.

They didn’t know better. They didn’t know that the shortest day of the year was actually the Twenty-First and that the length of the day is based on the earth’s orbit around the sun in relation to its axis.

So, basically idiots. But, …well meaning idiots.

Nevertheless, “Christmas” was all about love and warmth and kindness, right? Wrong. It was about keeping out the cold. It was about when is the sun gonna come back?

Well, we know better today don’t we? We’re so smart that we know better, don’t we? We know the sun will return. Because we’re not idiot like them, right?

Wrong-o.

See, nowadays we have to keep the spirit alive. Because we worship the dollar. The big, fat King Dollar Bill.  And He is a fickle god isn’t He? We don’t know if He will ever come back do we?  Do we? No no no no no noooooooooo….

So what do we do? What do we do? We buy presents. We buy tinsel. And lights. And stockings. And stocking stuffers. And trees, because weren’t those other idiots quaint back in the olden days?

And here we are, hiding in our homes, trying to keep out the starving, the destitute, the poor…

Just buying presents to prove that we can, buying presents to prove that we’re not like them, buying presents hoping that one day we won’t have this fear inside of us.

Guess what? It’ll pass. Someday, we’ll figure out the laws of economics just like we figured out the laws of astronomy.

And then we’ll move on to something new. Something else to keep out the cold.

But, til then, you’ve got me.

I am the cold, the hungry, and the poor.

I am the forgotten, the lonely, the destitute…

Me?

I’m the Grinch.

From Sister to Murderer & Other Tales of Love (Adapting Kafka’s Metamorphosis)

Today, let us discuss The Metamorphosis.

Mine!

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Doesn’t he look excited?!

So this ties in to my work on adaptations.

To give a brief idea:

I think adaptations are usually terrible.

I have an old article kicking around somewhere:

Adapting Dracula (Why Epistolary is a Four Letter Word) (Boucher 2015).

In it, I outline a lot of my concerns when it comes to adaptations.

Namely:

  • The story works in whatever medium it originates (unless you are in a living medium like theatre, in which case you might be screwed)
  • The story may work (better) in another medium
  • Changes to the story are necessary to make it work in the new medium (books to film)
  • “faithful adaptation” is a meaningless phrase

I had a wonderful discussion with Bailey Boudreau, Artistic Director of Slipstream Theatre Initiative about adaptations the other day.

It boiled down to figuring out what made the theatre, at the time, immediate/important, what was the author attempting to do at the time of writing and attempt to do that in the time in which we currently live.

Now, I believe this has some thorny problems:

  1. You cannot argue objectively about history and therefore anything that occurred surrounding a theatrical piece has to be considered correlative, not causative
  2. And it is almost impossible to determine  what the author intended
  3. Therefore, any and all choices are still based in our own personal artistry.

I wrote an article consumed with the problem of author’s intent:

It boils down to:

  • The author intended something while writing
  • The art stands separate from the author (if it is good)
  • The art cannot stand separate from the audience’s interpretation
  • Therefore, what is our interpretation?

At the time I was working on Turn of the Screw by Henry James, which, unfortunately, never materialized.

Maybe a work for a later time.

But, I was later approached by Slipstream Theatre Initiative to help assist to direct, write, and produce their Penny Dreadfuls.

We had some brainstorming meetings and I threw in my hat hoping to direct and ended up writing for it instead.

I had no idea what I was doing, but was excited for the project.

The Penny Dreadfuls

In years past, the Penny Dreadfuls had been adapted from older sources (like much of Slipstream’s season).

Last year they had a carnivale feel where the production company (in the scenario) was performing in order to lure everyone into the back room so they could unleash a monster upon them. Much like Pippin!

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This year, the talk was more of madness, transformation, and subtler things.

Immediately Metamorphosis jumped out at me, but I couldn’t say why.

It was always something that I wanted to work on, so I suggested it.

Luna, the lovely director said that she was excited and off we were to the races.

The Process

I feel I should be pretty explicit here:

I had no idea what I was doing.

I felt really awful for everyone around me. Much of my life I feel like I am bouncing off of walls people already told me were there. So there is that.

Anywho, a few weeks out from opening, I had neither solidified a script, nor cast, nor rehearsal, nor tech, nor anything. I was pretty boned. So I settled down to read the text.

The reading.

Anyone read Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis? 

If no, here is a really great Blog featuring synopsis and one of the best comic summaries EVER:

In it, Gregor awakes one morning to discover himself transformed into a giant vermin. That’s pretty much it. He wakes up and he is relatively okay with it.  His family kills him.

A lot of metaphors happen here about isolation, depression, anxiety, and dehumanization, but really that is it. He feels like a bug or some sort of monster and everyone treats him like one. His family still feeds him sure, but they are no longer sure it is him.

Eventually, through neglect and downright abuse, Gregor lies down one day and dies, leaving his family a little bit wealthier and a little bit happier.

The Realization

That is it! I really did not feel comfortable with it.

To be honest, I get really uneasy every time that I read the text.

I couldn’t say why when I was in high school, but something profoundly disturbs me about the family’s response to Gregor. He seems like such a nice bug. He loves and cares for his family. Why can they not recognize him? Why can they not see him for the the caring creature that he is?

And that is when it hit me:

The story is not Gregor’s…

The moment that I hit that realization I knew I had something.

Tadashi Suzuki writes beautifully in his The Way of Acting and other collected texts that in order to do justice to a production he tries to:

Tell the story from the most compelling perspective

OR: to put it another way:

Ask the question, “From whose perspective should this story be told?” 

He did this very famously in his Women of Troy, a play about the women mourning the sacking of Troy and the horror that they endure after its fall.

Now, remember the Trojan War lasted for ten years…

For ten years these women had already witnessed war literally at their gates.

Now, it was inside, running rampant and destroying their homes, their families….their babies.

Tadashi Suzuki, a masterful director, set the Trojan Women in the mouths of Japanese women in Japan…after the Holocaust.

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Those women needed to tell this story in this way at this time.

I was so moved when I read what he did.

I cried.

On a New York City subway, I cried while reading a theatre book.

I was the crazy person that day.

(The photo isn’t from his acclaimed work, but it gets the sensation and it was directed by him La Dame aux Camelias)

So that question has stuck with me for years now.

  • “Whose story is it?”
  • “From whose perspective should this story be told?”

I had a clue from the final paragraph of the translation:

All the time, Grete was becoming livelier. With all the worry they had been having of late her cheeks had become pale, but, while they were talking, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa were struck, almost simultaneously, with the thought of how their daughter was blossoming into a well built and beautiful young lady. They became quieter. Just from each other’s glance and almost without knowing it they agreed that it would soon be time to find a good man for her. And, as if in confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions, as soon as they reached their destination Grete was the first to get up and stretch out her young body  (Kafka).

*shivers*

The argument could be made that it is the parents’ who are the aggressors in Gregor’s torment and the objectification of Grete at the end.

I think the case could be made and I know I certainly made it in high school.

However, upon further reflection, the setup between the two siblings could not be clearer in Kafka’s prose:

  1. Gregor: the lowly, virulent vermin, crawling across the floor, sticking to walls, hanging from the ceiling, feasting on refuse, collecting no income, sitting idle, or otherwise playing and becoming an unnecessary burden for the entire family
  2. Grete: the exact opposite, young, vibrant, musical, industrious, hard-working, jovial, and pleasant to see.

So that was the basis of my thought.

We have the one (did you know that the original title Die Verwandlung translates more literally to “transformation) transformation into beauty and the other into beast.

However, what to do with it now that I had my cornerstone.

The Concept

Considering the story from Grete’s perspective opened up a whole new avenue of ideas.

Of course she told Kafka’s Metamorphosis. She had spent the better part of a year, isolated in her own home, chained to caring for a beast that had almost certainly devoured her brother.

No wonder she had insisted on calling it “Gregor”. No wonder she wrote the whole story making “Gregor” as kind-hearted and well-meaning as humanly possible.

He is the closest thing we have to an existential saint.

It’s all a lie.

Grete told a lie to save her brother’s memory and very selfishly explain away the last year of her life.

With those ideas in mind, I started crafting a piece that was in that vein.

The Script

So the script was designed with Grete as the protagonist.

She would be the lens through which the audience would grasp the narrative.

She needed an adversary, Gregor would do.

Her parents proved too irresistible not to write into the narrative.

But, where/when would I set the action?

Dramatis Personae

GRETE: A youthful, vibrant young woman. She has been kept like a china doll by her mother, her father, and her brother. She is strong and curved like a violin.

GREGOR: He is dead. An enormous and virulent vermin. He begins transformed. There is no way to know what he was before.

FATHER: He is dead. A man lost and losing more of himself each and every day, but with a core of iron somewhere under his flabby exterior.

MOTHER: She is dead. There is not much to say of her. She loves her children. She is sad when they are gone.

The answer occurred to me after I wrote the character introductions: after the event.

Gregor is already dead.

So are her parents.

Everyone is dead save Grete, but the story still carries on.

It provided too many interesting things to play with.

  • Who was telling the story?
  • Only Grete?
  • How?
  • Who would play with her?
  • How would she get them to play?

All sorts of possibilities.

And we explored a few of them during rehearsal.

The production was really remarkable, but I have no artifacts to present here.

Only my words.

However, I was fortunate enough to be able to present my rough draft as a workshop performance last week at Young Fenix Fellowship.

I plan to host more, but the central question was:

Does the play work as a standalone piece and should it be expanded?

Overall, audience response was largely positive. I think there was some serious confusion based on the reading of the stage directions. I write lengthy stage directions that are meant to help more than they hinder. I don’t think I always succeed.

Take a look:

Excerpt from After the Transformation by Miles Boucher

There are hundreds of newspapers. All carefully arranged. They are in piles, in stacks by date and time and organized by geography. There is a system to this. It is a very complex, but comprehensive system to the person who made it, but to no one else. 

The newspapers wait. 


Enter Grete


She leaves


Enter Grete


She leaves


Enter Grete


She feels it. That was it.


She paces out the room. She takes its measure. This takes time. 


It is an (un)satisfactory room (depending on the day).  She works with it. She places herself in the ideal spot. She places the audience in the ideal spot. This takes time. 


She lays herself down for bed. This takes time. Perhaps she starts with a newspaper. Perhaps she doesn’t. She makes for herself a pillow, a bed, a sheet, etc.


When everything is perfect she begins:

GRETE: One morning,

She pauses to fix a corner.

One morning, when Gregor…

Did it move? No? Again.

One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.

Vermin.

Vermin.

Vermin.

Vermin.

That was it.

Moving Forward

I think that I would like to rewrite it, cutting much of the superfluous stage directions while keeping the bare bones and see what is left.

Afterwards, there are at least a few moments that were and are definitely rushed as far as action goes.

Some of the scenes where Gregor kills his parents are really solid and tight, but I think there are moments to explore between the siblings.

How do you communicate with a wild animal and how long does it take?

Stuff like that.

So that is about where I am at with the piece. I am excited to keep workshopping it and continue to present it at YFF and elsewhere.

Anyway, that is my critique of my own work and an explanation of what I have been doing with my fall.

I hope you all enjoyed it!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Bibliography

Kafka, Franz. “Metamorphosis.” Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg, 13 May 2002. Web. 3 Dec. 2016.