BWW Review: THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE at Experience Theatre Project
Since seeing Experience Theatre Project's THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE as part of the Fertile Ground Festival, I have been wishing for a time machine so that I could go back and experience ETP's previous shows. The word experience here is key, as JEKYLL & HYDE, like all of ETP's productions, is fully immersive, expanding the idea of what it means to go to the theatre. It's creative, original, and totally enjoyable.
What exactly is immersive theatre? Basically, there is no division between the audience and the action. Rather than getting a ticket for a specific seat from which to watch the play, you literally enter the world of the play, which then takes place all around you. And, instead of sitting in one spot, you move around the space as the actors do.
Sometimes it's awkward, like when you find yourself unexpectedly in the middle of a scene or when, despite several warnings, someone plants themself right in front of the most frequently used door. But, that's all part of the fun. And art should be awkward sometimes.
ETP's adaptation of JEKYLL & HYDE is set in 1864 during the Gold Rush, a decision I'm guessing was made at least in part to take full advantage of the Beaverton Masonic Lodge, which, with its dark, wood-paneled interior is perfect for a wild west saloon. Indeed, the intricately detailed set is one of the main attractions. When you first walk in, it looks simple -- a big room divided into two main sections: a saloon and the main street of a Gold Rush town. But, as with most things, looks are deceiving -- as the show progresses, more rooms appear, and I found myself waiting with bated breath for whatever new sets might emerge from behind the walls.
The story is essentially the one you know. In an attempt to better understand the interplay between good and evil, Dr. Jekyll performs experiments to separate the two sides of himself. He succeeds, spinning off Mr. Hyde, an alter ego who is pure evil. As things spiral out of control, Jekyll realizes that his attempts to manipulate human nature were misguided. But, by then, it's too late.
Alisa Stewart, who adapted and directed the production, has expanded the cast of characters and introduced several subplots. On the positive side, there are female characters (there weren't any women of significance in the original), but the extra subplots, which serve mainly to enhance the Old West feel, occasionally make the play feel bloated.
That aside, I found my first true immersive theatre experience thoroughly engaging. The cast is awesome, especially given the added challenge of a constantly moving, up-close-and-personal audience. And being in the middle of the action is a lot of fun.
If you go, here are some pro tips:
- Try to find a seat where you can see the whole interior of the room. You'll likely still get up and walk around, but it's nice to have a place to sit down when you want to.
- During intermission, take some time to explore the set and appreciate the details. You might even find a "Claim Deed," which will get you a free cupcake or cookie.
- Listen to the pre-show announcements and follow the instructions so that everyone can get the most of their time. Most importantly, don't block the saloon door!
JEKYLL & HYDE runs through this weekend. More details and tickets here.
Photo credit: Casey Campbell