DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE Comes to Life on the Stage, Thanks to Dr. Lew Tatham

by RoxyRegionalTheatre on October 9, 2015

I had on my docket to adapt Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the Roxy stage. My plan was to cheat and use the film as my source.

Fredric March had played the Janus-minded doctor in the 1931 film version, and MGM did a remake in 1941 with Spencer Tracy. I had found a DVD with one version on one side and another version on the reverse side, so one night I watched them both.

Then I thought I should just read the book. I found it a perfect read. No chapter was longer than two-and-a-half pages, until the final chapter — 30-plus pages.

I was stymied. The book had neither a fiancee nor a prostitute. Those characters are not in the book.

I knew I owed it to every student who was obligated to read it to remain true to the text of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic. Adding Miriam Hopkins, Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman would have helped to sell tickets in their time, but adding their characters to a perfect novella would be anathema. So I began.

I had first met the late, highly respected and loved Dr. Lewis Tatham while performing with him in Murder in the Cathedral at Trinity Episcopal Church. The T.S. Eliot classic was Lew’s first foray into the world of theatre since playing Mercutio back in college.

Lew came willingly to the Roxy and acted in The Elephant Man, Equus, Macbeth (twice), Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar, playing Polonius in Hamlet as well as in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He even came back out of retirement in Florida to appear as Clarence Darrow in Inherit the Wind.

Lew had it in his unwritten contract that he could leave at intermission. Many of his characters died or were murdered just before intermission — or, rather, I held intermission right after his character kicked the bucket. I cannot tell you how often I would hear the light patter of his slippered feet as he tiptoed down the steps to return to APSU, while the rest of us continued on with Act Two.

Lew was a Mainiac — that’s how people from Maine referred to each other. I had summered in Maine for a number of years, so we had that in common.

He bailed me out when I came to the final chapter of Jekyll and Hyde. I hadn’t a clue, but Lew did. He divided up that chapter. As it is a summary of the previous chapter, Lew’s idea was to have each scene commented on not at the end, but throughout. Brilliant!

In addition to performances for school groups, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde plays four public performances on October 16 and 17 at 8:00pm and October 24 and 31 at 2:00pm.

Oliver! plays its final performances tonight (Friday) at 8:00pm and Saturday at 2:00pm and 8:00pm while Go, Dog. Go! ends its run at 11:00am this Saturday, October 10. The rock musical Murder Ballad (for mature audiences only) plays upstairs in theotherspace at 7:00pm this Monday and Tuesday, October 12 and 13.

See you at the theatre!

[John McDonald]

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