STRANGE CASE: JEKYLL & HYDE, Lifeline Theatre. Perhaps what's most impressive about Lifeline's adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's ghoulish variation on the doppelganger tale is that it restores the story's inherent creepiness, rescuing it from the Grand Guignol kitsch of the Broadway musical, more than a dozen films, and one pretty awful early Who song. Steve Totland's script, apparently set partly in the present day, and Ann Boyd's impressionistic direction make this an altogether eerie and somber affair with nary a moment of levity--less than appropriate for the children I saw attending a Sunday matinee. Employing a sextet of excellent actors, this 80-minute production chronicles the doomed Dr. Jekyll's tragic transformations into the demonic, soulless Mr. Hyde, rarely losing its hypnotic sense of dread; Cathy McCullough's effective puppetry represents some of Hyde's more hideous crimes.
Less effective are Totland's ill-placed monologues, in which several of Jekyll's acquaintances discuss their own inner turmoil--memories of being disciplined as a child, fear of flying, a struggle with deadly disease. These seem intended to demonstrate the universality of Jekyll's struggle with his dark side but are merely distracting and extraneous. And though Boyd's directorial flourishes made her production of Gogol's The Overcoat a delight, here the stylized movements, echoing voices, and occasionally jarring rock music enhance the mood at the expense of character development and psychological complexity. This Jekyll is more viscerally disturbing than intellectually challenging.