Going in without knowledge of the many Hydes might cause some confusion, especially when one of actors playing a supporting role walks right into playing Hyde in the character's first appearance. And there are times when Kelly Boulware (who settles in as the semi-permanent physical presence of Hyde for most of the show, after initially playing another key character) is surrounded by the ensemble actors who provide a sort-of Greek chorus as the many voices in Hyde's head, that works really well, as do the the scenes in which Hyde and Jekyll (David Whalen, the only Jekyll) appear together. All that messing about with roles, plus the fact that Whalen and Boulware are physically quite different take a little time to sort out for those looking for a more literal depiction. A stylized make-up and costume treatment for Hyde might smooth things out a bityou kind of wonder, from the raw story, why no one recognizes Hyde if they know Jekyll, yet also wonder why the chemical concoction that brings Hyde out also makes him taller.
For whatever reason, it all kicks in quite nicely in the second (shorter) act, when everything makes sense and the intense horror story really takes off. It seems we could get to that point a little more easily, due to the text and the pacing, but it is worth the wait. Hatcher shares credit for that with director Tracy Brigden and the excellent performances of this cast, in particular Whalen and Melinda Helfrich (Elizabeth). David Whalen, who can be so charming when the role calls for it, is wonderfully tormented and drug-crazed as Jekyll. Ms. Helfrich makes one glad the role of Elizabeth was added to the story; she brings a lot to the role, and is stunning in more ways than one, even if you don't totally buy the attraction Elizabeth feels for Hyde. Boulware starts out a bit grand as Carew, but his Hyde gets pretty darn scary, which is what it's all about. The ensemble is incredibly versatile (include Sheila McKenna changing genders in the amount of time required for a quick costume change). Rounding out the group are Martin Gileswho can get a laugh from just about any line, even when you think when none is intended by the textand Daniel Krell in a couple of the more key but one-dimensional roles here, no criticism to his talents.
Tony Ferrieri's modest set, with the ubiquitous catwalk, incorporates some nicely utilized slide-in doors and other set pieces (presented and removed by an efficient and nattily dressed stage crew). The scenery painted with a smudgy faux-Monet landscape doesn't fit, however. The lighting by Christian DeAngelis embellishes the simply set greatly, and is key in the effectiveness of the variety of scenes. Susan Tsu's costumes are impeccable and top notch.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde runs through November 8 at the City Theatre in Oakland. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org/.