Theater gives 'Jekyll and Hyde' an old twist

October 03, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

Changing from the kind-hearted Dr. Jekyll into the nefarious Mr. Hyde is a suspense-filled five-minute transition for actor Mark Redfield, who is starring in and directing his own adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's terrifying classic, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

The violent tale of foul and murderous deeds that emerge from the dark side of the soul is opening tomorrow at the Spotlighters Theatre for a three-week run. Written in 1886 and set in the shroudlike fog of London nights, Stevenson's novella has come down through the years as the ultimate psychological thriller.

Actor Stuart Voytilla has co-written the new adaptation, which is being presented under the auspices of Redfield's company, New Century Theater.

"We have gone back to the book to make the play into the image of a detective story mystery that has to be unraveled," Redfield said during a rehearsal break at the St. Paul Street theater.

"In Stevenson's time, the detective novel was just creeping into its own. It was after Poe's 'Purloined Letter' and before Arthur Conan Doyle. Stevenson really wrote a detective story using Jekyll's lawyer, Franklin Utterson, to discover who Hyde was and what kind of hold he had over the good doctor.

"That character is the pivotal figure in our play," Redfield said. "In this version, we have inserted more characters to flesh it out but have tried to stay true to the spirit of the author. We have added symbolic imagery and classical music pieces to enhance the eeriness of this morality tale."

As the story goes, the distinguished physician, Dr. Henry Jekyll, theorizes he can harness the evil in man with a new drug -- separate the good from the bad. "But in his zeal to create a race of good Samaritans, he unleashes all that is lascivious and hungry in his own nature, allowing this monster without pity or remorse to perpetuate one ghastly crime after another," Redfield said.

"But Jekyll's crime was once he discovers he can get his own locked nature to come out, he allows Hyde to have fun and carries the masquerade too far."

The play accentuates class differences. To make this point the playwrights have written roles for two very opposite women to polarize the main character's dual needs. "In the original book there were no women," Redfield said. "The females we have developed, based on earlier stage and movie versions, come from the right and wrong side of the tracks. Both are victims of the complexity of the Jekyll-Hyde psyche."

To prepare for the scene in which he makes the drastic transformation from Jekyll to Hyde, Redfield commissioned a dentist to make a set of protruding teeth, which he inserts on a darkened stage. He also applies latex under his eyes to pull them down into a wide-eyed stare.

"I expand the nostrils and use a raspy voice," he said. "It all takes just five minutes. We have to keep it simple to make the fast change."

The newly formed New Century Theater has already made its mark locally with productions of Ionesco's "Macbett" and Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy."

The City Paper named the group "Best New Theatre Company of the

1991-1992 season."

Born and raised in Baltimore, Redfield attended Northern High School and graduated with a degree in theater from Towson State University. The actor has worked professionally in the Baltimore-Washington area for the past 10 years as a performer and director in more than 30 productions.

The 27-year-old dynamo, who is also a visual artist, founded the Industrial Strength Theater Company in 1985, an experimental absurdist group for which he served as adapter, producer, director and star.

Always intrigued by the horror genre, Redfield and Voytilla have collaborated on three films, which several studios are considering for possible production.

Of his dual role as the decent Jekyll and iniquitous Hyde, Redfield said, laughing, "It is like being able to play the brooding, guilt-ridden Hamlet and within the show play Richard III.

"There is a dual nature in everyone," he said. "The debate between creationists and evolutionists still rages on."

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