In the Acadia Repertory Theatre production of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Jonathan Wells, David Blais, Mary Paola and Frank Bachman, back, play Edward Hyde, Bernard Hope plays Henry Jekyll, and Hannah Kulus plays Elizabeth Jelkes. The show runs through July 24. PHOTO COURTESY OF ACADIA REPERTORY

Frightfully good fun offered at Acadia Rep

MOUNT DESERT — “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th-century tale about the battle of good vs. evil in man’s psyche, is a familiar tale.

In an era in which we are entertained by blood-thirsty fare featuring aliens and serial killers galore, the spectacle of a man transformed from a mild-mannered doctor into a raging fiend is, frankly, a bit ho-hum. But playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has sharpened the blade of this old theme nicely with his adaption of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” currently playing at the Acadia Rep in Somesville.

Hatcher’s script emphasizes the chemically induced split of Jekyll’s personality by having four very different actors play the character. Most of these other actors also play several other roles in the play. One might think it would get terribly confusing, but with the help of some clever prop devices, once you get the hang of what’s going on, it’s really quite easy to figure out who’s who.

In Stevenson’s tale, there are several drawn-out subplots about the British class system and a romance between the good doctor and his goody-goody fiancée.

Hatcher has done away with most of that, although as in the original, the horrible Mr. Hyde is at first seen as a sort of vigilante righting the wrongs of a flawed society with blade and bludgeon.

The multiple-actor-as-Hyde approach heightens the horror and suspense of the play as we witness the doctor gradually becoming overwhelmed by the lust, rage, greed and sadism he has unleashed with his potion.

As Dr. Jekyll, Bernard Hope is most convincing as the cerebral, crusading scientist outraged at the spurious social assumptions colleagues make about their patients. Perhaps because director Mike Kissin has made most of the violent acts in the play stylized and symbolic rather than literal, Dr. Jekyll’s bestial side, when it eventually emerges, never seems all that scary or shocking.

The various avatars of Mr. Hyde, however, are pretty darn creepy. Frank Bachman transforms into a great, scowling, looming menace. David Blais epitomizes the devilishly handsome, womanizing side of Hyde who wins the heart of the lovely chambermaid Elizabeth (an excellent Hannah Kulus). Jonathan Wells is wonderful in a variety or roles, especially as the ghoulish cherub of a forensic examiner Dr. Lanyon and his wicked imp of a Hyde. Mount Desert Island High School student Mary Paola holds her own with all these pros in about a half a dozen roles ranging from a decorous butler to a doomed prostitute to a sly and seductive Hyde.

Elizabeth Braley’s costumes, like Jordan Johnson’s minimalist set, work perfectly to set the 19th-century tone without getting too fussy about it.

All in all, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which plays through Sunday, July 24, is frightfully good fun.

For information and tickets, call 244-7260.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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