North Coast Rep’s ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ a Taut, Tense Dramatic Ride
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, October 23, 2023
There's nothing like a good Gothic novella this time of year, and one of the most well known stories is Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. North Coast Repertory Theatre is taking advantage of the season by leaning into this eerie tale about good and evil and their interplay in the human mind with its newest opening, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, running through November 19.
The story begins with two gentlemen, Utterson and Enfield, out on a walk. Passing a particular door, Enfield recounts a time when he observed an ominous man, an Edward Hyde, assaulting a young girl, and then forces him to pay her family in order to settle the matter. It is discovered that Hyde has an unknown relationship with Dr. Henry Jekyll, a local physician, when he brings up his name as a reference. When it is mentioned, however, Jekyll dismisses the connection and encourages his friend and solicitor, Utterson, to let the matter go. After all, Hyde is not really a man, but rather an experiment into the darker side of humanity... Jekyll's alter ego. As the story unfolds, though Jekyll believes he is the one in control, Hyde shows that he isn’t done creating chaos. As Hyde continues to engage in "chronic manifestations" of abuse and harm around town and concurrently develops a romantic relationship with chambermaid Elizabeth Jelkes, Jekyll begins to lose more and more time and his cracks begin to show and he decides to be done with his dark colleague once and for all. It is that night that Hyde uses to brutally beat Sir Danvers Carew, a physician and professional adversary, leaving clues nearby that implicate his creator, and leaving Jekyll to wonder just how he will escape the mess.
Shana Wride directs this tense and taut adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher, one that meanders near to the original storyline, but with the added peril of no less that four Edward Hydes and the development of a romantic interest. In her hands, the performers do a lovely job of not only creating a wide breadth of characters, but also infusing a terrifying and menacing depth into the duality of Jekyll/Hyde.
The cast is led by Bruce Turk as Dr. Henry Jekyll and North Coast Rep newcomer Conner Marx as the primary iteration of Edward Hyde, and both are outstanding in capturing the very farthest edges of civility and savagery. Marx also plays Jekyll’s very approachable Scottish colleague Dr. Lanyon, and he differentiates these personas beautifully.
Turk and Marx are joined by Jacob Bruce, Katie MacNichol, Ciarra Stroud, and Christopher M. Williams, all who play multiple roles over the course of the show and whose personifications are nuanced and tight. It is entertaining to watch them flip between personages and try on different accents for size, and the decision to dress them in coordinating apparel (white shirt, blue striped tie, gray plaid vest, and black pinstriped pants, all costumed by Elisa Benzoni) allows them to interchangeably move in and out of the scenes with ease.
It is clear that this production is not only well rehearsed, but features a set of very skilled performers. Each scene is tight, and even set changes are choreographed in a way that is artistic and smooth; there is one scene change in particular in which a bed is removed from the stage in a way that is just artistry (kudos to stage manager Cindy Rumley and her team that pull this off in such a visually striking way).
Told on an expansively open stage reminiscent of rusty and riveted steel beams (set designer Marty Burnett), four sliding doors across the back feature large screens that are used to reveal both an eerie multitude of Edward Hyde visages, as well as to offer glimpses into Carew’s silhouetted murder. A single red door on a rolling frame is moved around the stage as needed to reflect the entrance to Hyde’s haven. The only set dressings used are a series of metal tables and stools which are brought on and off with ease and are used as a bed, a desk, a cadaver table, and a park bench in turn. The story loses nothing with this minimalist approach.
The production leverages dim and situational lighting and overhead orange lanterns to communicate mood (under the watchful eyes of co-lighting designers Matthew Novotny and Erik Montierth), and tension is both created and enhanced in the hands of sound designer Melanie Chen Cole, who integrates period-esque cello motifs and liberal sound effects throughout the production.
The show runs about 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission… 2 hours of hair-raising tension and drama. Given the recent collective societal interest in crime shows and the nearness of the production to Halloween, it's no wonder it has already been extended.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will play at North Coast Repertory Theatre through November 19.