Yesterday my sister and I went to see a community theater’s production of the musical Jekyll and Hyde. It’s a show that our cousin introduced us to years ago through the soundtrack and we were excited to it on stage. I’m not sure I’d call this a favorite play, but the music is fantastic and the story line prompts some intriguing questions about the nature of human kind and how our personalities work.
Jekyll and Hyde is a classic tale of good and evil. The play is quite different from Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the original version, Jekyll develops a serum to separate his darker side because he’d already started indulging his vices and wanted to keep doing so without fear of discovery. The play offers a more compelling protagonist; a Jekyll searching for a cure to evil on a grand scale. If you’re curious, you can watch a really good high school production of the play on YouTube by clicking here.
This isn’t the sort of play that I recommend frequently. It’s dark. It’s complicated. It’s more sexual than the scandalized ladies sitting behind me expected. It doesn’t end happy (don’t look at me like that — you don’t get spoiler warnings when the book’s 132 years old). But it’s also a deeply compelling story that dives head-first into tough questions about the nature of man.
The play opens with a question: what if we could separate man’s evil nature and leave only the good? The song “Façade” talks about the “face that we wear in the cold light of day” to please society. That’s our good side. But “the truth is / That it’s all a façade!” We hide our true self “behind all of our fears” and it only comes out when “the nighttime appears.” What we hide includes the evil side. It’s the “sinister secret” “that each man you meet / In the street / Isn’t one man but two!”
Man is not one, but two,
He is evil and good,
An’ he walks the fine line
We’d all cross if we could!
It’s a nightmare
We can never discard
So we stay on our guard
Though we love the façade
What’s behind the façade?
This is the basis of Jekyll’s theory. He’s convinced he found a cure for evil and so he starts experimenting on himself. The first in a series of potions he takes creates Edward Hyde. Though it’s not explicitly stated, it seems that Jekyll believes his experiment was in part a success. He did split evil from good in his personality. He just didn’t succeed in getting rid of it. He really is what the ensemble was singing about in “Façade.” He isn’t one man any more, but two. He (Jekyll) is good and the other (Hyde) is evil.
But things aren’t that straight-forward. In fact, the whole play works to subvert the opening insistence that good and evil are something you can neatly separate. Dr. Jekyll didn’t cut his nature in half the way that he’d planned. He gave his evil nature a persona to play in by itself, but he didn’t get rid of it. Hyde recognizes that fact but even in the climactic “Confrontation” song Jekyll is still in denial.
[Hyde] Can’t you see, you are me?
[Jekyll] No! Deep inside—!
[Hyde] I am you! You are Hyde!
The play’s final message is not “that each man you meet in the street isn’t one man but two.” It’s that the true danger lies in denying the darker, more troubling sides of our personalities. Living behind a façade isn’t right — those people are just using “goodness” to hide the evil they’re doing in the darkness. Denying your dark side isn’t the answer either — splitting Hyde from Jekyll just makes him more powerful.
So what do you do? You stop hiding. Face the parts of yourself that you don’t like and deal with them. No short cuts. No denial. Pretending that evil doesn’t exist or that you can easily control it just gives the darkness more power. You’re a whole person — not split into evil and good — and you have to take responsibility for everything that’s a part of you.
I’m going to assume most of us here aren’t hiding murder and other such things behind our façades. But many (perhaps most) of us are living behind some kind of mask. We hide parts of ourselves that we’re ashamed of, that might hurt others, or that scare us. We don’t like to be seen as we are so we split ourselves. We put our “Jekyll” on display and keep “Hyde” safely tucked away.
Now, I’m not saying you need to go around spilling out every dark secret you’ve collected to everyone you meet. But if you really want to change something inside of you you can’t ignore it. You need to confront it and be honest about it with yourself and with God. He already knows everything, but He wants us to be authentic with Him when we ask for help. When we acknowledge all of ourselves — the good and evil — and then we can start changing and moving toward being the best versions of ourselves. We can truly put aside the façade and start living authentically.