Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde | Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

theat_jekyll.jpgThough the story is a familiar horror staple, the original tale is actually more psychological in tone than most remember.







Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1885), has been the subject of countless stage and screen adaptations since its publication. Seven years before Freud and Breuer published their first paper on "hysteria," the Scotsman was examining the duality of man, and writers have been producing their own "twists" on his story ever since. The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’s current production opts for chills more cerebral than visceral, as playwright Jeffrey Hatcher attempts to reinvigorate this well plumbed tome.

Though the story is a familiar horror staple, the original tale is actually more psychological in tone than most remember. Jekyll is portrayed as a good man, a knowledgeable scholar and surgeon, but he’s smug in his beliefs, and given to fits of outrage at the ineptitude he finds in the teachings of chief surgeon, Sir Danvers Carew. His secret desires are unleashed when he concocts a potion that releases his darker side, in the murderous form of Edward Hyde.

Anthony Marble gives a strong and sturdy performance as Henry Jekyll, but he really doesn’t get to let loose until the end of the play, when Jekyll can no longer control Hyde’s reemergence. It’s during these scenes that Marble gets to open up, with a less restrained approach. Anderson Matthews is very good as Jekyll’s solicitor, Utterson. Matthews displays a fatherly concern in his main role, and displays the right raspy vocal touch as one of Edward Hyde’s many incarnations.

Scott Schafer takes on several parts, but is especially memorable as Sir Danvers Carew. After Jekyll berates his teachings in front of a class of students, he seeks recompense, but doesn’t count on getting his skull bashed in by an enraged Mr. Hyde, instead. Kyle Fabel is sympathetic and amusing as Jekyll’s school chum, Lanyon. He’s also quite good playing Hyde for the lion’s share of the time.

Katie Fabel is attractive as Elizabeth Jelkes, a chambermaid who crosses paths with Hyde when he nearly tramples her little sister. Fabel is fine in the part, but it’s a superfluous and underwritten role, added to provide a twist. Hatcher follows the standard convention that nearly every writer has in adapting this work: he adds a love interest. But the spin here is that the girl isn’t in love with Jekyll — she’s in love with Hyde. Which would be fine if it were believable, and developed properly.

Bernadette Quigley is miscast as Jekyll’s servant Poole, and as another embodiment of Hyde. I have no qualms with the part being cast against gender lines, but Quigley adopts a gruff voice for both parts that’s distracting at best.

Edward Stern directs with a keen eye toward keeping the action, and the actors, stylized to an almost formal degree. And I wonder if this play wouldn’t be better served by eschewing an intermission. It would certainly allow the tension to build and climax in better fashion.

Thomas Hase implements a dramatic, almost cinematic, lighting scheme that carefully focuses our attention on each detail. Robert Mark Morgan’s scenic design adds a modern touch with its bi-level construction, but it’s woefully underutilized. Rusty Wandall’s sound design creates an ominous mood between scenes, with low, synthesized moans adding atmosphere. Elizabeth Covey’s costumes are period accurate, but I expected more than just the donning of a black cape to differentiate Jekyll from Hyde.

Hatcher’s major change is to have Hyde played by four different actors, and there are times that this really pays off. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of those kinds of moments to justify their inclusion. He remains remarkably faithful to Stevenson, but the lack of action (a condition also present in the book), may be too much of a hindrance to overcome.

The Rep’s handsome, and occasionally gripping production, continues through April 12, 2009. | Chris Gibson

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