As the house lights dim, and the recorded pre-show announcements begin, a lone violin is heard playing a mournful rendition of the Rolling Stones song “Paint it, Black.” This is how the audience is subtly led into Jobsite’s production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Tampa’s Straz Center.
If there was a vocalist singing the lyrics – there isn’t – those seated in the Jaeb Theatre would hear the opening lines: “I see a red door, and I want it painted black.”
There is, in fact, a red door right there on the stage, and it figures prominently in this shadowy adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson chiller. Behind the crimson passage lies the residence of Dr. Henry Jekyll, milquetoast London physician – a man who’s been playing God, in secret, in the dark depths of his laboratory.
At other times, it’s the same door into which his alter ego, the brutish Edward Hyde, slips after committing some heinous act of violence.
Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher turned the screws on Stevenson. Rather than Jekyll undergoing some tortured transformation into Hyde, onstage or (heaven forbid) off, Hyde appears without warning in the guise of one of the other characters – the solicitor, the cop, the scientist, even the good doctor’s house servant.
It is genuinely creepy. Each of the actors “transforms” into the id to Jekyll’s ego, using physicality, voice and gait. In one scene, they all descend on Jekyll simultaneously.
That’s how director Shawn Paonessa fell under the sway of Hatcher’s twisty-turny script.
With Stevenson’s story, “You just assume Jekyll and Hyde are played by the same person,” Paonessa says. “It’s a lot more fun, and a lot more interesting, when you have four different people playing Hyde, and a fifth one playing Jekyll. I like the dynamic that it’s not just this bi-polar personality thing. Maybe there are multiple facets of us.”
In addition, both the solicitor and the servant are written as male characters; in this version, they’re played by women. “Part of it is, I just wanted more diversity in the cast. And there’s a wealth of talent, and I just wanted the best people I thought were right for the roles.”
Paonessa has been involved with Jobsite, as an actor, director or playwright, since the company’s second-ever show in 1999. He’s also a sound and video designer, and designed and programmed the Jobsite website (“I’m only responsible for it when it works,” he laughs).
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Halloween show, was originally going to be staged in the much smaller, and more intimate, Shimberg Playhouse. Like all post-pandemic Jobsite productions, however, it was relocated to the roomy Jaeb to keep the audience spread out, and to keep a 12-foot buffer between stage and seats.
This posed a challenge for Paonessa, his cast and his production team.
“I’ve been in that little black box (the Shimberg) for 20 years, and I know it well,” the director says. “I know every corner. The Jaeb is a little intimidating but it’s also a lot of fun. I’ve never had a set this big before.
“When we were going to do it originally, I was thinking well, all we need is a door. But when we moved into the Jaeb it was ‘we have to have a set.’ Otherwise, all people were going to see was seven specks on a stage. You have to get creative.”
Most thrilling of all, he says, “was getting a unit of six actors to come together and act like … a seventh character. A separate organism. In most plays, just because you have six great actors on a stage, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all a unit.
“Just getting them all on the same page, and in the same room, that was both the appeal and the most important challenge for me. Getting that cast of six gelled.”
And together they all gell into Jekyll/Hyde, the same person – who, no matter what he does, can’t get no satisfaction.
Details and tickets are here.