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Theatre / The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a play by Noah Smith, first performed in 1999. It is based on the novel of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson, and thus tells a new version of the now-familiar tale of Dr. Henry Jekyll, who creates a serum that transforms him into Edward Hyde, the embodiment of his suppressed urges.

The play is in two acts. The first follows Jekyll as he develops the serum, initially enjoys his outings as Hyde, and then struggles to regain control as Hyde becomes increasingly violent and eventually murderous. The second switches focus to Jekyll's friend Gabriel Utterson as he investigates the mysterious Hyde and attempts to discover his connection to Jekyll, culminating in a confrontation in Jekyll's laboratory.

The other major characters of the play are Jekyll's skeptical colleague Dr. Hastie Lanyon, Utterson's nephew Richard Enfield, Enfield's fiancée Helen O'Neill, and a prostitute named Cybel who forms a relationship with Hyde. Two more characters, designated in the script as the Butler and the Maid, narrate and portray all the minor characters. They also act as a Greek Chorus to Jekyll in the first act, expressing his hopes and hesitations at the decisive moments, and to Utterson in the second, giving voice to his struggle to comprehend the events he's become enmeshed in.

This play contains examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Sir Danvers Carew, Hyde's murder victim in the novel, isn't mentioned or seen. Enfield gets his death instead.
  • Always Need What You Gave Up: After Hyde commits murder, Jekyll gets rid of the potion... and immediately starts needing it to remain himself.
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: Cybel responds to a doubtful statement with "And I'm Queen Vicky herself."
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Helen's twin sister died the year before the play's events, leaving her feeling as if half of herself had died. She has a mark on her neck that appeared after her sister's death, which is suggested to be a psychosomatic expression of her grief.
  • Animal Testing: Jekyll first tested his formulas on animals, resulting in a lab strewn about with dead and deformed rabbits before he hit on the correct mixture.
  • Answer Cut: During Utterson's sequence of flashbacks, there's one where Enfield tells him about how Hyde attacked a girl and bought off her family with a cheque signed by Jekyll. As he starts to tell Utterson whose name was on the cheque, the scene shifts to the next flashback, which begins with Jekyll admitting that he did sign the cheque.
  • Ascended Extra: Utterson's kinsman Richard Enfield is a major character. In the novel, he only appeared in a couple of scenes, and his only significant part in the plot was to witness the incident of the girl and the cheque.
  • Bad Liar: Jekyll spins a tall tale about hunting in Africa, but Cybel sees through it immediately.
  • Betty and Veronica: Jekyll is attracted to Enfield's fiancee, Helen, while Hyde takes interest in the brainy prostitute Cybel.
  • Call-Forward: The last words Lanyon is seen speaking, in a flashback to the day before his murder, are a jocular remark that Jekyll is going to be the death of him one day.
  • Cane Fu: Hyde attacks and kills Enfield with his own walking stick.
  • Canon Foreigner: Helen, the beautiful and intelligent young woman who attracts Jekyll's interest, and Cybel, the prostitute who forms a relationship with Hyde.
  • Catchphrase Interruptus: With a borrowed catchphrase. The young Jekyll, Lanyon, and Utterson called themselves The Three Musketeers, complete with "All for one, one for all" as their motto. Any time in the play one of them tries to invoke their old bond with the catchphrase, it gets interrupted, either by one of the others making a joking comment or by the speaker being attacked by Hyde.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: At the end of the play, the police show up just after Hyde's death.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In an early scene, Jekyll and Helen discuss the fact that the published version of Jekyll's formula contains a printing error that would make the resulting concoction lethal, killing its recipient in seconds. In the final scene, Hyde forces Helen to make up a fresh batch of the serum for him, and warns her not to deviate from the recipe. She makes the batch using the published formula, leading to Hyde's death.
  • Classy Cane: Enfield carries a walking stick he acquired on his world travels, which he freely admits serves no purpose other than to make him look dignified.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Utterson's butler is killed by Hyde after coming to Enfield's defense.
    • Lanyon dies sooner and more dramatically in the play than in the original novel, with Hyde killing him personally.
    • Enfield, as part of his expanded role, gets Carew's death.
  • Disability-Negating Superpower: Jekyll has a deformed hand, while Hyde doesn't. Depending on the production, Jekyll also wears glasses that Hyde doesn't need.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Lightning and thunder accompany the scene where Jekyll first transforms into Hyde.
  • Dying as Yourself: After Hyde is killed, Jekyll resurfaces for a moment to thank his friends before death overcomes him.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Hyde has one late in Act II. After an off-the-cuff remark about it being a pity he didn't find the Hyde in Utterson, he decides injecting Utterson with the formula used to make him is a terrific idea.
  • Evil Laugh: Hyde has one. It's notable when Jekyll uses it during Enfield's party, as it hints to him that Hyde can take over without the serum.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: Hyde makes one in Act II after Utterson speculates on how he'll evade the police.
    Hyde: What a dastardly criminal mind you have, Utterson! Not surprising, for a lawyer.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Hyde is noted in both stage directions and dialogue to be remarkably ugly.
  • Fighting from the Inside: Jekyll does this when Hyde tries to inject Utterson with the serum. There's several layers to it, as it's ambiguous whether he realizes that the serum will kill him or not.
  • Foreshadowing: During the first scene, Jekyll makes references to Doctor Faustus and to Frankenstein, both stories about a man of science who oversteps the bounds of what mankind is meant to know and is destroyed. He doesn't appear to notice the relevance either time.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: Hyde shoots Utterson in the shoulder at the climax, preventing him from trying to stop him physically or go for help.
  • Greek Chorus: The Maid and Butler introduce and set up the scenes, and offer commentary to Jekyll and Utterson.
  • Hearing Voices: The Butler and the Maid whisper in Jekyll's ears, although it's less a representation of insanity than a case of them verbalizing the various and sometimes conflicting impulses that all people have. When Jekyll orders them out at the end of Act I, they find a new home with Utterson. Jekyll also hears Hyde demanding to get out as he attempts to reassert control.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Cybel switches sides several times. She starts out being friendly with Jekyll, then supports Hyde, then aids Utterson in his investigation, then joins Hyde again. The last one's an act.
  • Here We Go Again!: The ending implies Utterson will make more of Jekyll's serum and use it on himself.
  • Hollywood Mid-Life Crisis: Utterson and Jekyll show signs of this in the opening scenes, lamenting how pedestrian their successes are in their middle age. Only Lanyon seems content with his lot in life.
  • How We Got Here: The second act opens with Utterson arriving at Jekyll's house for the final showdown, then recounts his investigation in a series of flashbacks, before continuing on to the showdown itself.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Jekyll admits to being unable to kill himself to stop Hyde, so Hyde has to be tricked into doing it.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: During the final confrontation between Utterson and Hyde, Jekyll is able to take partial control of his body to prevent Hyde harming Utterson, following Helen appealing to him by name. It's only temporary, but it's enough to shift the balance and bring about Hyde's defeat.
  • In-Series Nickname: Utterson tends to call Henry Jekyll "Harry." Some productions leave this out, as everyone else calls him Henry.
  • Interactive Narrator: The Butler and the Maid narrate, stepping into the scene from time to time to play the minor characters or to give voice to a character's inner thoughts.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifter: After a while, Jekyll starts involuntarily turning into Hyde whenever he gets angry or upset.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • When he first meets Helen, Jekyll quotes Faustus's speech on meeting Helen of Troy in Doctor Faustus. Bits of the speech come back several times later in the play with ironic twists put on them.
    • When Hyde first meets Cybel, she tells him, "I've got a soft spot for the misfit type, and I'd say you are that." At the end of the play, a policeman says, "Don't I know you from somewhere?" and she replies, "I don't know—are you the misfit type?"
  • Line-of-Sight Name: In this version "Hyde" is one, from Hyde Park.
  • Lost in Imitation: The play uses several plot elements that derive from earlier adaptations rather than from the original novel, although it puts its own twist on them.
  • Meaningful Echo: In the first scene, Utterson tells Jekyll that although he's only a lawyer he does at least know enough about chemistry to "follow a recipe". The play ends with the Maid echoing the remark back to him as he looks thoughtfully at Jekyll's notes on how to create the serum.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Jekyll's maid is given the name Valerie.
  • Never Heard That One Before: When he first meets Helen, Jekyll quotes Faustus's speech on meeting Helen of Troy in Doctor Faustus. She finishes it with him, and notes wryly that she's heard it "fairly often".
  • Never My Fault:
    • After Hyde exposes Enfield's hypocritical behavior to Helen, Enfield tells Jekyll, "My beloved Helen doesn't trust me any longer. Whoever is responsible for this will be made to pay." He never acknowledges that he shares some of the responsibility himself for being untrustworthy in the first place.
    • During his confrontation with Lanyon at the end of the first act, Jekyll attempts to draw a line between Hyde's actions and his own. "I didn't do it! Hyde did!" By the end of the play, however, he's accepted his responsibility, and uses "I" throughout his confession to Utterson in the final scene.
  • Not Worth Killing: Hyde refrains from killing Utterson initially as he hasn't lived enough to make it worthwhile.
  • Only Sane Man: Lanyon repeatedly warns Jekyll against his course of science and is horrified when he learns that Hyde killed people, intending to call the police.
    Lanyon: Henry! You cannot come into my house, confess murder, and expect to walk away!
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Hyde has a low opinion of women in general, and admits that chivalry means nothing to him.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: In the original novel, Utterson's investigation is the main plot, but now Hyde's secret is too well known for that to work. The play keeps Utterson's investigation, but only in the second act, and plays it mainly for dramatic irony as Utterson struggles to catch up to what the audience already knows. Jekyll also injects the serum rather than drink it as in the book, for ease of use onstage and as a plot point.
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Jekyll does at least spend several months testing his serum on animals before considering human testing, but he's his own first and only human test subject.
  • The Real Remington Steele: In this Edward Hyde is initially a name Jekyll made up for himself, causing surprise when Hyde shows up in person.
  • Red Right Hand: Played with. Jekyll has a deformed right hand, which becomes healthy when he transforms into Hyde. Also, Hyde has unhealthy falling-out hair, but it's later revealed that so does Jekyll (it's a side-effect of his experiments), only nobody knew because he wears a wig to hide it. That said, Hyde is noted to be ugly and disfigured in other ways.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Jekyll invokes the angel Gabriel when seeing Utterson at the end of Act II.
    Jekyll: Rejoice! Gabriel is here and it is the end.
  • Running Gagged: At the beginning of each new scene, the Butler and the Maid describe the setting to the audience (as the play depends on quick scene changes and uses minimal set dressing), frequently ending with "And a door." When Utterson breaks down the door at the final scene, it ends with "And an open space where there used to be a door."
  • Shadow Archetype: Hyde is one for Jekyll, obviously, but in this version so is Enfield, a respectable man living a less virtuous double life.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the journal entry recording his first successful test of the serum, Jekyll describes himself as a "modern Prometheus".
    • The young Jekyll, Lanyon, and Utterson called themselves The Three Musketeers, complete with "All for one, one for all" as their catchphrase.
    • Utterson remarks that hitherto the only mystery in his life had come from reading Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, and after he figures out the truth about Hyde, Hyde asks him mockingly if he enjoyed "playing Sherlock Holmes".
    • When he first meets Helen, Jekyll quotes Faustus's speech on meeting Helen of Troy in Doctor Faustus.
    • Cybel's fellow prostitute is named Ivy, likely a shout-out to Ivy Pierson from the 1931 film.
  • Smarter Than You Look: Cybel is quite brainy and can read, surprising other characters.
  • Split-Personality Takeover: Hyde stages one in the final scene, planning to inject himself one more time to stay in control permanently, as Jekyll feared that's what would happen if he did.
  • Symbolism: Lots of symbols of duality — the two narrators, the two women, a riddle about something with two faces that are identical but different, a philosophical aside about whether a zebra is black with white stripes or white with black stripes, and a character with a twin.
  • That Came Out Wrong:
    • While providing medical care to Cybel, a prostitute, Jekyll tells her that she needs to be in bed, then quickly adds "And I mean resting."
    • Helen lowers her neckline to show Jekyll a birthmark and asks what he thinks; he responds "That's a very lovely neck" before verbally backspacing.
  • Too Dumb to Live: After hearing Jekyll confess to murder and that he can no longer control when he becomes Hyde, the characters let him leave the room to get his coat so they can take him to the police. Hyde returns seconds later with a gun.
  • Truer to the Text: Jekyll and his friends are middle-aged, Jekyll's hypocrisy is acknowledged by himself and other characters, and Utterson's investigatory role is kept. Much of the major incidents from the book are kept, with the exception of Sir Danvers' murder, which is given to Enfield.
  • Twisted Echo Cut: During Utterson's sequence of flashbacks, there's one that ends with him telling Jekyll that "Hastie has wanted to tell you how pleased he is with all this charitable work you're doing." The scene immediately shifts to the following night, and Lanyon apparently picks up the conversational thread with, "Precisely. It is good to see you back to your old self." However, the audience knows, having already seen the second scene from Jekyll's viewpoint, that Lanyon's comment is actually a response to something said by Jekyll.
  • The Unfettered: Hyde lives according to his whims and nothing else.
    Hyde: All those little rules, those little limitations we put on ourselves, don't matter any more.
  • The Vamp: Cybel lampshades this after Hyde's death, commenting that a lot of men think she loved them.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In the final scene, Helen calls Utterson out for seeming more concerned about Jekyll's safety than about his potential future victims if he's left unchecked.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Hyde casually knocks down a flower girl who gets in his way when he's in a bad mood.
  • You Won't Feel a Thing!: Hyde says "This will only hurt for a moment" as he prepares to inject Utterson with the serum.
  • You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry!: Jekyll warns Lanyon against agitating him, as he feels that's what triggers the involuntary transformations.
  • You're Insane!: Seen in this exchange late in Act II.
    Utterson: Hyde, you're mad, you're—
    Hyde: Am I mad? Making love to those I love, and killing those I hate—is that madness, or is that just doing away with the formalities?