Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is a classic account of good vs. evil, and New Century Theater's spanking new theatrical adaptation is mostly to the good.
This ambitious version -- scripted by Mark Redfield and Stuart Voytilla and being presented at the Spotlighters Theatre -- accentuates the melodrama of Stevenson's horror story. Most of the heightening springs from the addition of romantic subplots, a tactic also used in some of the many screen versions. Jekyll's lady (Johanna Cox) is, of course, a lady; Hyde's is a streetwalker (Donna Sherman).
In addition, a number of characters have been altered or added to fit the subplots, i.e., Hyde's first murder victim turns out to be the brother of Jekyll's fiancee.
But it's not just the script that keeps the intrigue mounting; it's the careful but creepy production, directed by Mr. Redfield, who also stars in the title roles. Beginning with the black and white costumes and sets, the physical production serves as a constant reminder of the basic theme of the duality of human nature.
This theme is further enhanced by highly theatrical staging. A telling scene ends with the prostitute and fiancee alone on stage, staring at each other in shock. Although this is a non-naturalistic moment -- they're not actually in the same place at the same time -- it is imbued with ominous, psychological truth.
Of course, a great deal of the production's success is due to the startling change that occurs when mild-mannered Jekyll becomes that snarling pit bull known as Hyde. Mr. Redfield's Jekyll is so kindly, he seems worthy of sainthood, particularly when he ministers to a sick child in his free clinic. His transformation to Hyde is achieved only partly through makeup and the use of jagged prosthetic teeth; most of the alteration comes from his hunched posture, loping gait and menacing delivery.
Mr. Redfield has surrounded himself with a large and mostly accomplished supporting cast; among the more distinguished performances are those of Ted R. Frankenhauser as Jekyll's disapproving medical colleague; Brian P. Chetelat as the father of his fiancee; and Ron Bopst in the dual roles of a detective and one of Jekyll's ne'er-do-well patients.
Stevenson's story is a mere novella, but Messrs. Redfield and Voytilla have turned it into one of the larger productions in the Spotlighters' history -- perhaps a bit too large for its own good. They have embellished a story that is thematically more intense than it is deep. Most of the embellishments add resonance, but like a piece of Victorian furniture, the script feels over-stuffed.
That said, it must be acknowledged that no matter how familiar you are with this much-produced tale, you'll feel a chill at the end when the theater is crawling with lantern-lit figures seeking the .. elusive Hyde.
'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.; matinees Sundays at p.m. Through Oct. 27.
Where: Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St.
Tickets: $7 and $8.