Sunday, August 21, 2005

Jekyll and Hyde, Superego and the Id, Humility and Arrogance

I know it might sound like a bad joke, but I went to Columbia Basin College's production of Jekyll and Hyde, the Musical last night with my two elder children, in part because my stellar better half also played the violin in the orchestra (once again, our family's involvement in the fine arts rears its head. We are in rehearsals for Beauty and the Beast as I write this, and will have updates up as we go. Tangent finished, on with the review.).

The title alone sounds like it ought to be in The Producers (aka Springtime for Hitler). How can one do a musical about RL Stevenson's tragic story of the 19th century scientist?

But it is a crackerjack piece of work, very well staged by the folks over at CBC, in particular the strong voices of Jason Fowler as Jekyll/Hyde, Carisa Simpson as Jekyll's doomed fiance Emma, and the astonishing Wystie Edwards as Lucy.

The script does have one shortcoming, in that the show is 2.5 hours long, and tries to do too much in covering both the morality play of Jekyll's arrogance (more on that later) and the strivings of the prostitute Lucy in overcoming her lot in life and her infatutation with Jekyll.

The morality play in the story is utterly gripping, yet also depressingly prophetic. Jekyll, as a scientist determined to lessen the suffering of humanity, embarks on a quest to eliminate the dark side of man's soul through the use of esoteric drugs. He attempts to isolate this dark side through the use of drugs, then his plan is to drug it into oblivion once isolated.

He approaches the local medical society for permission to obtain a human subject upon which to perform the experiment. The society is aghast at Jekyll's proposal, suggesting that he is engaging in the height of scientific arrogance in fiddling with what amounts to a person's soul in an effort to ease suffering. Jekyll replies that the society consists of a bunch of sanctimonious, hypocritical and cowardly windbags who are stuck in the politics of the past, standing in the way of the perfection of humanity.

(The depressingly prophetic comes into play when we think that the role of Jekyll today might be played by proponents of fetal stem-cell research, while the medical society plays the role of the naysayers. . .or the Church).

Jekyll, confounded by what he sees as the forces of foolishness, of course performs the experiment upon himself, and with results with which we are all familiar; instead of controlling the beast (or id) within himself, the monster Hyde goes on a rampage of increasing murderousness, in the end destroying both himself and Jekyll, all the while Jekyll remonstrates with himself for his foolishness, wishing he could put the genie back in the bottle.

Stevenson of course was re-writing the Faust legend, and in these fevered times of scientific progress for its own sake, we would be well-served to revisit the warnings of Stevenson, Mary Shelley, Goethe, Marlowe and even Oppenheimer; that we need to ask ourselves the question; "Just because something CAN be done, does it mean it SHOULD be done?" In our quest for immortality, it is a desperately needed question, and all too often it is only the Church that continues to ask it, and of course gets excoriated for its temerity.

If you get a chance to see Jekyll and Hyde, I urge you to do so immediately.
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