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Wildsong stages 'Jekyll and Hyde' at OB Playhouse

Jekyll 2.jpg
Roland Lizarondo
/
KPBS
Cody Ingram plays the title roles in Wildsong Productions' "Jekyll and Hyde" at OB Playhouse, June 27, 2022.

The San Diego theater company Wildsong Productions staged three shows before the pandemic shut it down. But it returns this year with a full slate of shows including "Jekyll and Hyde," which opens Thursday at OB Playhouse & Theatre Company.

Wildsong Productions stages musical 'Jekyll and Hyde'

"Jekyll and Hyde" is a musical based on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Victorian tale of "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Stevenson's story looked at a doctor and scientist who wanted to separate his good side from his darker one. His experiments lead to him discovering a potion to transform himself into a deformed being free of conscience, Mr. Hyde. The novella was so popular and struck such a nerve with readers that the term "Jekyll and Hyde" became accepted shorthand for describing anyone who appeared outwardly good but also possessed an evil nature.

"This story is just timeless, from the time that it was written to the time it was done in the 1940s. Everyone knows the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Everybody kind of questions, is there an evil side and a good side to everyone?" said Cody Ingram, the actor who plays both Jekyll and Hyde. "And the thing that I love about this story is this tagline that I read, which is, 'Are we good because we are inherently good, or are we good because we don't want to be punished by society?' And I think especially right now, there's a lot of questions about morality. What is morality and what is accepted societal behavior?"

The story has inspired multiple movies, from a 1920 one featuring John Barrymore to a 1931 version that won an Oscar for Frederic March to such contemporary reimaginings as "Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde" and "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde."

In a movie, the filmmakers and the actors can use editing and make-up effects to make Dr. Jekyll transform into the monstrous Mr. Hyde. But Ingram had to convey that transformation in a more psychological way.

"When I first read the book, the one thing that jumped out to me was this idea of not so much that the experiment caused Hyde to show up, it was that the formula triggered something that was already inherent within Jekyll," he said. "I worked a lot with the idea of Disassociated Identity Disorder and that's kind of where the basis of my work began. This idea of in your brain, someone is sitting in the chair, whether that is Jekyll or it is Hyde. And Hyde starts to pull Jekyll out of the chair multiple times as he gets more comfortable and has more control over Jekyll. So I watched a lot of videos of people switching on camera and what that looks like, what that feels like."

Erik.jpg
Roland Lizarondo
/
KPBS
Erik Ramirez directing "Jekyll and Hyde" at OB Playhouse, June 27, 2022.

Modern audiences may recognize Jekyll's transformation into Hyde as a symptom of a mental health disorder. Wildsong director Erik Ramirez said the timing for staging a pop opera during a pandemic that has forced many people to confront mental health challenges interested him.

"What triggers someone to act one way at one point and another way at another point? That's an interesting topic, especially right now with mental health issues that we actually are starting to talk a lot more about and it's more prevalent," he said. "I think it's a really good subject to hit and to understand because we are more open about it, can understand the story more and where this person is coming from and connect, as opposed to just an evil genius and a scientist, you kind of understand where they're coming from."

Lucy 2.jpg
Roland Lizarondo
/
KPBS
Amanda Blair plays Lucy in Wildsong's "Jekyll and Hyde" at OB Playhouse, June 27, 2022.

Actress Amanda Blair who plays Lucy, a working girl who Jekyll befriends and Hyde seeks out, said the story resonated with her because of its universality.

"We've all met people that you think you know who they are, and then they turn out to be someone else," She said. "Lucy is one of the few characters in the show that is who she is all the time. And I think it's a refreshing thing for Jekyll to recognize that in someone else because Jekyll is constantly with people that he doesn't quite necessarily fit in with."

"Jekyll and Hyde" will be Wildsong's third production in 2022. The company also has "Spring Awakenings" and "The Mad Ones" yet to come before the year is done. After being unable to perform live shows for two years and without hosting any virtual ones, the young company is trying to make up for lost time.

"COVID-19 hit and really knocked us down a few notches," Ramirez said. "But we're working our way back up. We did 'Tick Tick, Boom.' We've done 'Secret Garden' and we have a whole season planned out through December, so hopefully we'll get back up there."

But it's tough when you are competing with much bigger veteran companies that have the marketing to reach a wider audience.

"The biggest challenge, honestly, is just getting your name out there and people knowing the quality of work that you're doing and what you're trying to do and what your message is," Ramirez said. "For us, we do want to have a place where people can come work professionally but have a lot of fun. We want to be of a place that is known for being inclusive and having all kinds of people, all walks of life and everyone comes to one place to put on art."

You can check out Wildsong's "Jekyll and Hyde" at OB Playhouse from June 30 through July 10.