DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE: a la Burt Grinstead and Anna Stromberg

Burt Grinstead and Anna Stromberg in Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Photo Credit Cooper Bates

DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE -sound familiar? But this time round it is a two-hander comedic reimagining of the old classic. Burt Grinstead and Anna Stromberg are the couple that have written and perform in this NY Premiere. This entertaining production by Blanket Fort Entertainment has already garnered positive responses from the press:

“DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE was praised by Stage Raw as “a highly innovative work, impressive for its delightfully morbid sense of humor and the versatility of the acting.” Broadway World said, “Both actors display a great deal of charm, courage and panache. Stromberg is nothing short of amazing.” Encore Magazine described the show as “fascinating, invigorating and challenging,” and Media Geeks raved, “the two stars are extremely talented.” Stage and Cinema admired the “spectacular performances and clever production” and said, “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is just what the doctor ordered.”

First up, congratulations on being awarded a place at the Fringe Encore Series. What about this production do you think resonated so strongly with the audiences at this year’s fringe?

Thanks so much! We’re thrilled to be a part of this awesome lineup of shows. Darren Lee Cole (artistic director of the SoHo Playhouse) and his team are really special people. They’ve created a pretty incredible place to be a storyteller. This opportunity was completely unexpected, and we are eternally grateful to be able to showcase our little show in such a cool forum.

As for our show, the reaction to it was such a surprise! We’re not sure exactly what resonated with audiences. The fact that the source material is pretty timeless doesn’t hurt. It could be that we love doing it. Maybe it was because people were craving something silly with all the darkness happening in the world right now. We really don’t know what it was, but we’re happy people have been enjoying our whacky production!

This is a comedic adaption of the classic tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. What do you find funny about this iconic character?

We love to laugh. We sort of pride ourselves on being able to find the funny in any situation. It’s one of the best things about our relationship, and we’re convinced it’s what makes us compatible in life and in love. With Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, it wasn’t any different. Early on, we were very attracted to the story for its major themes of duplicity, addiction, and societal pressure. None of those subjects are particularly humorous. However, when we put pen to paper, we couldn’t stop laughing. I think this is in part due to our rather morbid sense of humor, but also because it is our opinion that the novella is actually quite funny. Dark, but funny in a satirical way.  Also fundamentally, there is something about the juxtaposition of light and dark, of flippancy and tragedy, that allows for more dynamic characters and storytelling. Of course, on top of all this, we threw in our own brand of zany comedy for good measure.

 What would Dr. Jekyll say is the best part of the play?

 Haha, we love this question! There’s a moment close to the end of the play when a sliver of a light peaks through at the end of the tunnel, and there’s a very real chance Dr. Jekyll might be able to conquer his demons and find the answers for which he’s been so desperately searching. Mind you, this moment doesn’t last long, but it’s an uncommonly optimistic moment for the conflicted doctor. Beyond that, it’s a pretty bleak play for old Henry Jekyll.

What would Mr. Hyde most like the audience to remember?

 I think Hyde would probably want the audience to remember that society should never be your compass- morally or otherwise. That you should follow your impulses and trust your gut. Now, chances are he would have some less savory advice as well, but we’ll leave that out for now.

How did this production come into being? What was the seed? How did you make the choice of this specific subject matter?

We knew we wanted to create something from the ground up, but we couldn’t find that “seed”. One day, we were reading through projects and came across another adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic. We were reminded of our initial love of the bigger themes of the story but realized that neither of us had actually read the source material. We dove in. We read the novella once, twice…myriad times. We watched the old movies, skimmed through other adaptations (plays, comics, etc.), and we fell in love. Part of the reason this novella is so well known is because it has a timeless message about a relatable human struggle.  We could certainly relate to the themes presented. It is our hope that the audience will have a similar experience. On top of all that, we realized that no one has done this story the way we would want to do it. So we did it.

What do you think you have learnt about the nature of mortality from creating this work?

This has been such a big question for us. “What does it mean to be good?” What does it really mean? We would go for long walks discussing morality (y’know, just casual afternoon strolls), and depending on the time, the day or the mood our conversations would veer in wildly different directions. One beautiful part about being a writer is that you can introduce different ideas, different perspectives through each of the different characters. Robert Louis Stevenson did this brilliantly. The book, itself, doesn’t answer any questions. In fact, much like most philosophy of that time, it strives to challenge the answers previously provided by religion or societal convention, and in turn, ask more questions.

As far as the nature of morality goes, we’ve discovered how fluid it is, how easily people can be manipulated if you appeal to their sense of moral superiority, and for us, how important it is to have a sturdy foundation with an open heart.

Blanket Fort Entertainment’s mission is to create fast paced, funny and compelling entertainment. How did you decide on those three ingredients? 

 We started noticing a trend with a lot of theatre we were seeing. No shade, just observing. Productions we saw seemed to have a very serious tone. Perhaps it was just the theatre we were seeing, but we were hungry for some silliness, some good old-fashioned slapstick.

As for the pacing, it can really make or break a piece of entertainment, and it’s a vital part of our process no matter the project- funny, scary, dramatic, they are all lifted by great pacing.

Now for “compelling,” the final ingredient. We want to use entertainment as a mirror for the audience to peer into, and perhaps discover something about themselves in the process.

The play has been described by reviewers as a “clever production” -what elements of your work do you think inspired these observations?

That’s so flattering to hear. There are a few elements of our production that forced us to put on our puzzle-brains. When tackling an adaptation, we found there is a certain amount of mathematics involved in order to fit all the juicy bits in, while still keeping it clean and concise. Also, because it was a Fringe show, we had minimal time, space, and other resources to draw from. This forced us to work out alternative ways of telling this story. Afterall, “necessity is the mother of invention”. The last thing that took a certain level of mental dexterity was figuring out how to tell this huge story with just two actors. We said from the beginning, that it would be counted as a success if the audience could forget the shtick, and simply fall into the story.

What are your most enjoyable moments to play in the piece?

Honestly, every moment is enjoyable. Once we get onstage it’s a whirlwind, and we just go with it. Also, we know it’s cheesy, but it really is an absolute pleasure to do what we love with the person we love.

Who are your mentors?

 As far as advice and guidance go, we turn to our family very often. Our parents have been a consistent source of wisdom and support. For inspiration, though, we really look to each other. It’s pretty handy to work with the person you trust most.

 What shows have you seen recently that totally floated your canoes?

 We saw a production of Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry at Rogue Machine Theatre that was absolutely incredible and really inspired us. The LGBT Center in Hollywood with Jon Imparato at the helm (where we originally performed this show) manages to produce raw and invigorating theatre every season. We just saw their production of Sarah Jones’ one woman show, Sell/Buy/Date, and it was remarkable.

Also, the Hollywood Fringe Festival is great because we are just mad about new plays, and it’s such a wonderful forum for introducing new voices into the theatre world. I can’t wait to see what this Fringe Encore Series brings!!

 

The show’s website is https://www.BlanketFortEntertainment.com

You can view the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde promo video trailer at https://vimeo.com/300398820

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde runs December 6 -15 at The Soho Playhouse’s (15 Vandam St. between 6th Avenue and Varick Street) as part of the Fringe Encore Series. For more info visit https://www.BlanketFortEntertainment.com

 

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