This review is written by American-Statesman freelance critic Claire Christine Spera.)
Trouble Puppet Theater Company is taking the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to a whole new level of creepiness with a puppet-based rendition, “The Strange Case of Edward Hyde & Dr. Jekyll,” adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson novel by Connor Hopkins, playing at the Salvage Vanguard Theater through November 23.
As far as classic tales go, the Jekyll and Hyde drama is particularly ripe for the puppet picking — and as though puppets themselves aren’t eerie enough, the production is layered with dramatically dark lighting (designed by Stephen Pruitt) and boasts sets on wheels (designed by Annie Bradley McCall) that recall dirty London streets, scaled to puppet size, of course. The sound design (by K. Eliot Haynes) caps off the experience: thunder, rain, creaking doors — the stuff that makes you sit just a little closer to the edge of your seat.
Though the puppets themselves are scaled down from life size, they loom large in this writer’s memory because the 10 performers manipulate them so expertly and intricately. Two to three performers control each puppet, giving each character a signature walk, and working their arms to make gestures and even wield props. It’s detail-oriented work that immerses us in a whole new world.
Furthermore, it’s a testament to both Hopkins and the performers’ abilities that we can so easily forget we’re even watching puppets. When Dr. Jekyll is in his study, cackling madly while injecting himself with an experimental drug he believes will cure mental illness, we flinch when the needle goes in his arm. In another scene, a woman walks alone down a street, her footsteps echoing under the dim streetlights, before Hyde — or is it Jekyll? — emerges from the shadows to murder her; we watch the episode with anticipation.
Amongst all the darkness is some humor, too. Two dim-witted cops, constantly outsmarted by Hyde/Jekyll, end up in a bumbling “Bloody hell!” yelling match when they realize they’re always going to be two steps behind.
As with most versions of the Jekyll and Hyde story, Trouble Puppet’s adaptation leaves many questions unanswered. Is Hyde a real person, or an alternate personality of Jekyll? How does one explain the continued murders after Jekyll is imprisoned? Was it all Hyde from the beginning?
This is when we realize we’re being manipulated, too.
“The Strange Case of Edward Hyde & Dr. Jekyll” continues 8 p.m. Thursdays- Saturdays. 6 p.m. Sundays. Through Nov. 23. $12-$20 (Thursdays, all seats are $10). Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Road. www.troublepuppet.com