Bruce Turk and Conner Marx. Photo: Aaron Rumley.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

North Coast Repertory Theatre, San Diego

Written by:
Lynne Friedmann
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This Halloween season, skip the haunted house tours and head to North Coast Rep for an edge-of-your-seat theatrical experience as good and evil do battle in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

This adaptation, by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, of Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic Victorian classic pays tribute to the original while adding ingenious constructs that ratchet-up the suspense, such as having four actors take turns (at times simultaneously) portraying the sinister Edward Hyde.

Actor Bruce Turk delivers a compelling performance as Dr. Henry Jekyll, a highly respected physician and scientist who takes pride in adhering to a strict moral code of right and wrong but harbors an unhealthy curiosity about the duality of the human personality. Aided by ingredients and forbidden knowledge acquired during travels to exotic lands, Jekyll concocts and gulps down an experimental brew that unleashes his evil alter-ego Mr. Edward Hyde (Connor Marx, in a chilling portrayal).

Joining Turk and Marx in portraying a dozen characters are Ciarra Stroud, Katie MacNichol, Christopher M. Williams and Jacob Bruce. These include Jekyll’s associates, friends, rivals, attorney, house servant, a chamber maid love interest, police inspector, poverty-stricken adults and a child callously trampled by Hyde. Keeping the action flowing and the character transitions seamless is Shana Wride in an impressive North Coast Rep directorial debut.

Equally impressive is the set design by Marty Burnett featuring a door appropriately painted blood red and an array of thick, riveted steel panels that appear immoveable, but – in a story where things are not always what they seem – this architecture moves effortlessly around the stage and transforms to convey the streets of London, Jekyll’s residence and laboratory, a park, a hotel room where an assignation takes place and a morgue.

Overhead, an array of off-kilter lanterns is used to good advantage by co-lighting designers Matthew Novotny and Erik Montierth to keep the audience off balance. Ominous music, door hinges in dire need of oil and other disquieting audio effects are the inspired work of sound designer Melanie Chen Cole.

Costume designer Elisa Benzoni clads male and female cast members alike in identical garb with variations in tailored jackets and hat styles (stove pipe, derby, homburg) distinguishing the highbred from the hoi polloi. Another telling and chilling element is a silver-handled cane courtesy of prop designer Phillip Korth. Intended for use by Jekyll on carefree afternoon strolls, the cane becomes a murderous weapon in the hands of Hyde.

Authentic English and Scottish accents are the work of dialect coach Emmelyn Thayer. High marks to movement director Jason Paul Tate through whose guidance scenes of mayhem are ones you’ll not soon forget.

by Lynne Friedmann

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