Baby's first words

By Christian Carvajal on August 6, 2010

Harlequin Productions opens up the read through of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hide >>>

In movies and TV, they call it a table read.  In theater, we call it a read-through.  It's the first rehearsal, at which the cast meets for the first time to sit around a long table and "read through" the script from beginning to end.  As an actor, it's always one of my favorite work nights.  I see it as a chance to show off whatever talent I bring to the (literal) table, right out of the gate.  Others see it as an unnecessary chore.  Some read their lines in a flat monotone, awaiting further instruction from the director before injecting personality or even emphasis into the words.  As a director, it always feels like a harbinger of what's to come.  If the cast understands and enjoys the play, I relax.  If line readings are murky, if the actors look bored or irritated, if the script evokes nothing but boredom, well, that can strike terror into even the most enthusiastic director.

I've been doing theater a long time, but Harlequin's Scot Whitney is trying something I've never seen or heard of before:  He invited the public to watch the read-through of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde for free.  It's a measure of the talent Harlequin attracts that Whitney can even consider this.  Ordinarily, there's at least one actor in every cast who's so unskilled at cold (unrehearsed) reading it threatens to derail the whole production.  Whitney has no such problems.  Aaron Lamb makes a smart Jekyll, ably assisted by Mike Dooly, Caitlin Frances (Six Hotels), Helen Harvester (Lamb's costar in Mating Dance of the Werewolf), Russ Holm, and Theatre Puget Sound president Frank Lawler.  Four of these actors will oppose Jekyll as the vicious Mr. Hyde.  As first readings go, this was top of the line.

In addition to the fine cast, we were introduced to Harlequin's designers and their process.  Harlequin actors have the advantage of completed tech designs before the first rehearsal.  Lighting designer Kate Arvin, set designer Jill Carter, and costume designer Kathleen Anderson demonstrated clear conceptualizations and, in Carter's case, some snazzy new drafting software obtained by tech director Marko Bujeaud.

It's obviously too early to review the show; I'll do that when it opens on Aug. 26.  Suffice to say the script is as complex and erudite as we've come to expect from Jeffrey Hatcher, one of Oly directors' favorite playwrights.  What it's not, at least upon first read, is funny; it relies on more cerebral energies.  "Erudite" can be a synonym for "talky." There's plenty of action in Jekyll & Hyde, but it's hard to glean that from condensed stage directions, so I look forward to seeing the story fleshed out with action and atmosphere.  Whitney says he wants to do public read-throughs for every play produced at Harlequin; indeed, he's already set Sept. 6 as the date for Taming of the Shrew.  I can't imagine I'll attend every read-through.  Granted, I've read (or performed, or produced) many of the scripts for the plays I critique, but I've come to relish the element of surprise.  Public rehearsals, even read-throughs, are a bold move, though unconventional and inclusive, and this one allows me to add a single, mysterious spoiler, the first line of the play:

"This is what I know..."