In the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Spencer Tracy as the eponymous hero (villain), after the good (bad) doctor has quaffed his special personality enhancing potion, he looks in the mirror at his new face and asks, “can this be evil?”
Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 classic Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (no “the,” I promise) has spawned a rich mythworld of imitators from Bugs Bunny to Eddie Murphy. Stevenson’s story in turn draws on myths of a cure all that reaches back through antiquity, probably to the dawn of medicine itself. One version is the “philosopher’s stone” that you may recognize from the Harry Potter series.
Kiran Rikhye and Jon Stancato of Stolen Chair products have adapted this myth to our current cultural milieu to produce Potion: A Play in 3 Cocktails, on now at People Kitchen and Lounge in the Lower East Side. The result is an interactive, immersive theatrical experience with three tasty drinks to delight your palate while you kick back and enjoy the drama.
The story is straightforward: A business team, a man and a woman, a manager and a mixologist run a bar. The drinks served up by the mixologist are not your average Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, however; these potions really are potions. Drink one of Charley (Natalie Hegg) the bartender’s potions and you really will transform from Julius Kelp into Buddy Love.
Enter two couples, one health inspector, and a wise-cracking bartender. Most everyone is looking for some sort of escape, some way to become a better version of themselves. But Charley’s potions have one flaw: they can’t make someone else fall in love with you. This is a causus belli for the G-Man. A seriously awkward, unlovable functionary and toady of The Man, Mr. Forth (played to a T by Jon Froehlich) will close the place down if Charley can’t make him a concoction to woo the ladies.
Of course, Charley has been working on just such a potion for a long time — a long, long time — as long as she’s known Tom (Raife Baker), her business manager and love interest. Tom, decked out in a beard and hipster neck tattoos, is too focused on money and business to see the proverbial forest for the metaphorical trees. But Charley’s charms, her magic potions and her mojo just won’t work on Tom. Add Jim (Noah Schultz) the bartender’s down to earth scientific realism to get a zesty wink-and-a-nod about the seriousness of the whole enterprise.
Potion is a witty, romantic and fun way to spend an evening, preferably with a date. (Some of the theatergoers sitting next to me got tickets through a HowAboutWe promotion.) Three cocktail services are woven into the performance (as you may have gleaned from the title), each tied thematically to the action “on stage.” Like Tom and Charley, they are hipster idealizations of New York’s cult of cocktail. The first, Curiosity, is rye, cynar, fresh lemon juice and honey with a lemon twist. The last, Love Potion No. 10, is lambrusco, gin, absinthe, simple syrup and fresh lemon juice with a lemon twist. All are mouth-wateringly delicious.
The text of the play, which is really just an excuse to sit in a bar and watch pretty people make out while drinking a few fun drinks, is, like the drinks, light, strange and slightly fruity. The authors’ conceit was to make a spoken word opera that is mostly recitative, kind of like Gertrude Stein on absinthe, but with more heterosexual plotlines. If you’re OK with repetition and slightly elevated diction, Potion is a good date night entertainment.