We all do bad things. Whether that's pirating your neighbor's wireless signal or pouring acid onto a prostitute's face just depends on your level of commitment. So for all its social commentary about good versus evil and the duality of man, Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde remains fascinating and horrifying simply because, on some level, we know it's true.
Like a cross between Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes and an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Theatre Vertigo's production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is fast-paced, gleefully wicked and undeniably cool. The story is familiar, with Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation staying relatively faithful to the original tale. But director Bobby Bermea keeps the action brisk, with scenes that cut quickly into the next. At its violent climaxes, we see briefly lit snapshots of morbidly beautiful choreography: a cane poised to strike, a howling cry, a face contorted in pain.
Making creative use of the small space in the company's new performance venue, the Shoebox Theater, the set consists of little more than two doors and minimal props. It is the explosive performances that transport the action to the seedy streets of London. Upper-class gentleman Dr. Jekyll (Mario Calcagno) begins to unravel at the hands of his alter ego, his very facial expressions become strained and dark as he loses himself to the beast within.
Cleverly hinting at the evil in all of us, the fiend Edward Hyde is portrayed by not one but six actors throughout the performance, with the persona often leaping from person to person during his grisly transformations. At times, the actors whisper over each other's shoulders, voicing their true desires. But Hyde is played primarily by Heath Koerschgen, who displays a suave demeanor and a surprising amount of sympathy, especially in his love for the feisty but naive Elizabeth Jelkes (Karen Wennstrom).
So for whom do we root? The man who suppresses his desire only to be destroyed by it, or for the manifested desire itself? Despite Hyde's ruthless nature, it's hard not to feel a thrill when he emerges, top hat and cane in hand. We, too, are transfixed by his actions, just like the maid who witnesses his horrific deeds from a window. "The good in me would have called out sooner," she says, "but the bad in me wanted to watch."
SEE IT: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is at the Shoebox Theater, 2110 SE 10th Ave., 306-0870. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays