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Interview: Burt Grinstead and Anna Stromberg on Their Play 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'

13 Dec, 2018    added by : Paul Hansen
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screenpicks

There are few if any stories that are more compelling in the horror genre than Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The story of a doctor who develops a serum which is able to separate the benign and sinister elements of his nature has fascinated readers since its first publication in 1886.

There have been numerous stage and cinematic adaptations of the classic novella. Film adaptations alone have featured such prominent actors as Fredric March, Spencer Tracy, and Michael Caine.

ScreenPicks recently posed some questions to Burt Grinstead and Anna Stromberg who have written and are performing a new two-actor adaptation of the tale (Stromberg also directs). Their play was originally presented in Los Angeles at The Hollywood Fringe Festival, where it was nominated for six Hollywood Fringe Festival Awards including Best Comedy. It was also a winner of the 2CentsTheatre Award for Distinctive Voices.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is currently performing in New York through December 15 at the Soho Playhouse, located at 15 Vandam St.

Why did you decide to create a stage adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? What is it about the story that continues to intrigue audiences?

Well, first of all, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an amazing story. The themes in the book are incredibly seductive for a writer- duality of the human soul, the nature of goodness, the inevitable collapse of puritanical society. Also, because this production started out as a Fringe play, the whole process was incredibly quick. So we figured an adaptation would be the way to go, and Jekyll is such a theatrical story that it almost begs to be staged. The other element that enticed us was the fact that most people are familiar with the story, if not the specific details of the novella, then at the very least with the general themes and plot. This meant we wouldn’t have to waste time on exposition, and we could really dive right in. It also meant we could keep the runtime short and sweet, or rather, short and macabre.

As far as why audiences find it so intriguing, I think it’s the idea of becoming someone else entirely. Mr. Hyde thrusts off the chains of societal decency and acts on every impulse no matter how base. This is incredibly tempting. To live free of the fear of judgment would be a beautiful thing, but it does beg the question, “what does it mean to be good?” If we only behave well because of the fear of judgment, then what is the core of goodness? With these bigger themes present to ground the work, it gives us the freedom to really explore all the fun the genre has to offer.

Are there other adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde (cinema or stage) that you admire?How is your adaptation different from previous versions?

Absolutely. In fact, a lot of our play is inspired by other adaptations. The 1931 Fredric March film is an absolute classic. The cinematography, the earnestness of the actors, the special effects (now dated, but still fascinating and completely effective), and the score all combine to create cinematic magic. We also read another stage adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher that was brilliant. We love the Michael Caine T.V. movie from 1990. We pretty much loved every adaptation we read or watched because it informed how we could tell the story.

We never came across an adaptation that used comedy to tell the story, and many of them veered away from the plot of the novella. We wanted to use a different kind of storytelling but still remain as close to the narrative as possible while maintaining our zany, dark sense of humor. We also added a few elements to help inform the characters and exaggerate the satirical nature of the original story even more.

Is it challenging to perform the play with only two actors?  Do you enjoy playing multiple roles?

It’s challenging from a technical point of view to weave between different voices, mannerisms, accents and genders, but it’s just a great deal of fun. Perhaps the biggest challenge, though, was figuring out how to make the audience care for the individual characters even though it was the same actor playing all of them.

Playing multiple roles in a show is a dream come true. A marathon, but a real treat nonetheless!

Can you tell us about the origins and mission of your company, Blanket Fort Entertainment?

We’ve seen a lot of theatre, from New York to Los Angeles, from Lima to Beijing. Through this, we’ve discovered what kind of theatre turns us on. The common ingredient is work that’s fast-paced, funny, and compelling, so that’s what we’ve set about trying to create. Not everything we make is a comedy. We just find that pacing and a sense of humor help engage an audience in the story you’re telling. Then, we want all our stories to be compelling, to have a reason they should be watched, or read, or listened to. That being said, we aren’t pretentious theatre types. Our aim is to remove the ego from our work and embrace the community aspect of storytelling. We want to tell a story that will make people laugh, cry, jump, think. We want to make people feel something. Above all, we’re entertainers, and we want to entertain audiences the way a child is entertained creating worlds in their blanket fort.

Photo: Cooper Bates Photography

Is there anything, in general, you would like to tell us about your production of Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde?

It’s a touring show. We created it for Fringe and it’s minimal but jam-packed with entertainment. Not much to say other than that really. We had a blast putting it together, and we hope audiences will have fun, too!

Would you like to share with us what your future projects are?

We’ve got several projects in the works that are certainly worth talking about. Currently, we have a movie hitting the festival circuit called The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan. We’re also in very early stages of pre-production for a new comedy web-series. We’re working on developing a new radio series. We hope to film another movie this year, as well as produce another play (let’s just say, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde might not be our only adaptation). We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re excited to see what the future holds. More details will be coming soon about all of these projects on our website, BlanketFortEntertainment.com.

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