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Fast-Forwarding Through the Bard 

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Tara MacMullen and Matt Cosper were paired as Body and Mind in this episodic absurdist frolic. You knew we were headed for uncharted territory when you saw the young girl by the flipchart passing the time before the show reading the Oxford American Dictionary. During the 38-minute show, conceived and directed by Richard Newman, pages on the flipchart announced the names of the scenes. A healthy portion of them depicted the body asleep -- dreaming strange and various dreams. When the body was awake, it searched for love, pleasure, meaning, truth. Stuff like that.

Mind went on fewer expeditions of discovery, seemingly more in charge. In a climactic scene, Mind and Body went to a rock concert -- sort of a date! The enervated performance of the Beatles' raunchiest rocker was pure joy, nearly equaled by the innocuous party Mind/Body attended afterwards.

Farm will be sprouting up at Off-Tryon on July 11 for two weekends of Chekhov shorts. Then on August 1, they're opening An Experiment for the Theatre at the Boiling Point (on Graham Street), a twinbill including Strindberg's Miss Julie and Genet's The Maids.

If those are as tight as the Dream, I suggest you go.

Confronting the rank-and-file subscribers at CPCC Summer Theatre with the Grand Guignol of Jekyll and Hyde might be considered an overly impetuous enterprise. Mr. Edward Hyde, the evil side of Dr. Henry Jekyll, tends to dispatch his acquaintances with knives, pokers, and the occasional neck twist. Not a candidate for providing amusement to nursing home habitues.

As the carnage began to mount toward the end of Act I of this lurid Frank Wildhorn musical, I had this notion of descending into the orchestra pit. Perhaps musicians could reassure me that contingency plans were at-the-ready in case some of those pacemakers out in the house began to blow after intermission.

Despite persisting gasps and grumbles from a few surprised septuagenarians, the mismatch between Robert Louis Stevenson's shocker and the CP audience demographic was not as catastrophic as I feared. The more severe problems were on the production end.

Assembling his cast, director Tom Hollis complacently follows the time-tested CP formula. That works fairly well with the longtime veterans in the mix, whose involvement in the gorier aspects of this melodrama is only slightly anemic.

By comparison, the youth brigade in the lead roles often appeared totally clueless in the early going. As Jekyll, we need Jared Bradshaw to be more driven, desperate, dignified, and masculine -- a creature out of whom Hyde could credibly emerge. Emily Tello, as Jekyll's fiancee, could stand to be more regal in her bearing and more fervid in her loyalty. And as Jekyll's reclaimed waif -- and Hyde's dancehall honey -- Connie Renda needs to be coarser, more street-hardened.

We get significant help from costume designer Bob Croghan, whose costumes for the respectable folk are suffused with grace and elegance. The vinyl greatcoat for Hyde, with a couple of gratuitous gleaming buckles in back, fiendishly showcased its owner. Cully Long's grey and dingy set design gave the panoramic Pease Auditorium stage more depth and character than usual. In her scant opportunities to add sharper edges to ensemble scenes, choreographer Linda Booth delivered smartly.

Faced with female voices that couldn't scale the high notes, musical director Bill Congdon wouldn't budge from the uncomfortable orchestrations. Beware of unintelligible screeching. But the chief problem here is the lack of technical sparkle from lighting director Gary Sivak and tech director Richard Dills.

When Jekyll enters his lab, there's no portentous gleam to his chemicals, no eerie glow when Hyde emerges. Only the faintest wisp of oppressive fog is released as the bestial, vengeful monster prowls the streets, and there's no spinal crack when he twists the judge's head. By the time somebody decides to detonate something in Jekyll's lab, we're past the midpoint of Act II. Way too late. When Hyde breaks our hearts and cuts Lucy's throat, there isn't a single drop of blood on the knife blade after the deed is done.

Maybe Hollis & Co. were truly worried about overloading those pacemakers. Fortunately, some of those scruples seemed to evaporate during the course of last Thursday's performance. Bradshaw warmed up to Hyde, perhaps beginning to relish the sensation created by his atrocities. During the schizophrenic showstopper, "The Confrontation," where Jekyll and Hyde fight for supremacy, he reverted to Jekyll's voice twice when he was flourishing Hyde's hair. Glitches like that should disappear as Bradshaw becomes more comfortable in the role. He's already mastered the hair business to perfection.

And let's face it, this dancehall Lucy, attached to both Jekyll and Hyde, is somewhat schizoid herself. After intermission, we get to see more of the darker, tormented side. My assessment of Renda was all the better for that. She does strain for those high notes, but she gets there.

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