By Lauren Wilson
Directed by Clive Cholerton
Caldwell Theatre Company
At the Count de Hoernle Theatre
Farce replaces screams of horror with screams of laughter
If, instead of writing The Importance of Being Ernest, Oscar Wilde had created and staged Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the result might well be Chemical Imbalance – currently being performed by the excellent Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton, Florida.
Both plays are drawing-room comedies peopled with larger-than-life dowagers (often played by male actors). Both feature flighty young damsels seeking husbands and frivolous, facetious relatives and underlings who act as foils to the hero. Both offer outrageous plots, broad acting, and delicious timing.
Where Wilde’s play is original, Lauren Wilson’s Chemical Imbalance is a clever, highly comic spoof of Robert Louis Stevenson’s quite serious work on the dual nature of man – the good vs. the evil. And if the story of one split personality is insufficient, playwright Wilson adds identical 10-year-old, twins (played by bouncy, blonde Tiffany-Leigh Moskow) – demonic Penelope vs. angelic Calliope. They not only parallel the Jekyll/Hyde situation, but are integral to the story because a drop of their blood is needed to provide an essential ingredient for the evil venom and its potential antidote.
The basic plot is so familiar that it whets the audience’s appetite to see just how key elements will be handled. When will the potion be introduced and – most important – what will happen on stage when good Dr J. drinks it and turns into the evil Hyde? Kudos to Tom Wahl who makes the change with spasmodic gestures and convoluted expressions that more than fulfill the audience’s expectations as the transitions become more frequent.
The most hilarious scenes take place when opposing actions happen on stage. A dinner party occurs on two levels – with those dining, and those scooting under the table to exchange information. When Jekyll’s potential fiancé Miss Rosamunda Dewthistle (Amy Elane Anderson) blithely rhapsodizes about her hopes and dreams, she is oblivious to the chaotic violence occurring directly behind her and to the potential danger to her own life.
Under the fine direction of Clive Cholerton, the energetic cast is splendid, with especial praise for John Felix as the twin’s mother, Lady Throckmortonshire and Lindsey Forgery and Laura Turnbull, as the ever-horrified, loudly screaming maids. Wyn Harmon is wonderfully comic as effete cousin Xavier Utterson; Angie Radish and Erin Joy Schmidt skillfully play Jekyll’s long-suffering, distracted mother and sister, and Schmidt is Chaplinesque in her second role as a mustached constable who looks – and behaves – as if she has just stepped out of a Keystone Cops film.
Tim Bennett’s set designs are charmingly whimsical. Dr. Jekyll’s lab is a sliding wall and many of the props: vials, pitchers, teacups and food are flat, cardboard cutouts.
The entire fast-paced evening is a total romp – great for those who enjoy farce. However, the broad, slapstick comedy will not appeal to everyone. It is quite probable that Robert Louis Stevenson would turn over in his grave.
In addition to the play, and to enhance the experience, at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Jan 21, Artistic Director Cholerton will narrate a “Lunch and Learn” and lead an informal question and answer session with the cast and crew ($20).
Future productions at this comfortable, 240-seat theater include The Old Man and the Sea (Feb 21-March 28) and Distracted (Aril 11- May 10).
At the Count de Hoernle Theatre, 7901 Federal Hwy. Boca Raton, Fl., 33487, www.caldwelltheatre.com, 561-241-7432, tickets, $34-55 (Students $10 half an hour before the performance), runs Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 m, running time is 86 minutes without intermission, through Feb 7.