It's a good month to be a Nashville theatergoer, with several thought-provoking regional premieres gracing area stages.
For sheer visual impact, things don't get any more engaging than Tennessee Repertory Theatre's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of the timeless Robert Louis Stevenson story calls for a single red door as the signature set piece — the focal point for the play's many scene changes. Scenic designer Gary Hoff takes that cue and goes wild, filling the Johnson Theater with red doors stacked upon red doors, with some floating in space above the misty playing area, thus providing an eye-catching setting for a potent science-fiction drama reimagined to high theatrical effect.
Peter Vann makes his Rep directorial debut a successful one, and it doesn't hurt that his cast comprises some of Music City's hottest players, including Amanda Card-McCoy, Matthew Carlton, David Compton, Jamie Farmer, and making his Rep mainstage debut, Chris Bosen.
Most of the focus, however, descends on veteran Samuel Whited, cast somewhat surprisingly as Henry Jekyll, a London doctor of high standing and integrity who dares to invoke the dark side of human nature through chemical experimentation. In accepting the part, Whited follows in a line of legendary cinema stars, including Fredric March, Spencer Tracy and John Barrymore — and at first blush, his more common character-actor persona seems to challenge traditional expectations for the role.
Yet there's no faulting Whited's portrayal. In the early going, his hyper-awareness and dour hopelessness are in concert with Hatcher's focus on Stevenson's themes: free will vs. sin, the potentially twisted nature of love and the inscrutable mysteries of medical and psychological science.
The play has a structural twist — four actors portray dastardly Jekyll alter ego Edward Hyde. That results in far less confusion than it might seem, and Vann's direction cogently presents the quartet's representation of the multilayered and often very brutal Hyde id.
The proceedings are well-paced, and Hatcher's script never loses its grip on its Victorian London creepiness. Michael Barnett's lighting design and Paul Carrol Binkley's subtly brooding soundscapes ably reinforce that atmosphere.
Stand up and be counted
Stand continues to make its way around Middle Tennessee, with Jim Reyland's two-man play about homelessness touching audiences and helping to raise money for Room in the Inn. Two of Nashville's finest actors, Barry Scott and Chip Arnold, are the co-stars. The final leg of Stand performances are at Christ Church Cathedral (Oct. 18-20), Looby Theatre (Oct. 25-27), Street Theatre Company (Nov. 1-3) and Boiler Room Theatre (Nov. 8-10). For tickets, visit writersstage.com.