Cooper Bates photography
What a terrific performance Burt Grinstead gives us as the eponymic characters - character - in Blanket Fort Entertainment’s production of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde! The show is a 70-minute-long adaptation of Robert Louis Stephenson’s famous 1886 book Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It’s played exclusively for laughs, and Mr. Grinstead is a marvel of a comic actor. As the good Dr Jekyll he pushes his hair back, cleans his glasses and lets his voice break. As the evil, cruel, malignant, hateful, reprehensible Mr. Hyde he sticks his tongue out, growls and lets his hat fall over his eyes so that we never really see his face. “This is freedom, Jekyll, freedom!” he cackles, dripping with camp villainy. And “If a man wants to kill, he should kill - shouldn’t he?.” He menaces the audience as he whooshes up the aisle.
He has a worthy partner in Anna Stromberg, the only other performer. She plays no less than 14 roles (okay, some of them only a few lines) including Poole (the doctor’s faithful servant who warns him against you-know-whom), a lawyer, Sarah (the love interest), Sarah’s gentleman father, an academic, a cop… The characters have various English dialects as class demands, one or two so muddled that we can’t understand the words. Marvelous! She has the a comic flair in precisely the same idiom as the jeune premier.
Ms. Stromberg herself directs the piece, without a moment’s falter. This is quite a feat considering that she’s directing herself in a role that demands precise timing and parody. She gives the show both humor and dramatic tension, with Mr. Grinstead facing front as often as not. When Jekyll drinks that ungodly potion, Ms. Stromberg silhouettes him. And then he throws himself around as if he’s receiving body blows from an invisible assailant. Great work!
The back wall has an evocative silhouette of the London skyline. The single set piece is versatile but uninspired.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde has been appearing at The Soho Playhouse. I’ll be at the next Blanket Fort Entertainment production wherever it is.