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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ opens tonight at Paul Bunyan Playhouse

Actors Peter Simmons and Joel Raney, in back, rehearse a scene in the play "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the third play of the summer season for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse at the Historic Chief Theatre. The play runs through July 13, but not on Thursday, the Fourth of July. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

By Natalie Grosfield

Special to the Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Do you recall where you were when you heard your first ghost story?

Listening to the whispered unraveling of some poor soul, or souls, waiting with hushed anticipation for the ending that would inevitably seer itself into your brain so you are able to recall it years, or even decades, later. And when retelling it yourself beside the fire on a dark summer night, surrounded with faces oddly lit by flickering flames and hearts beating rapidly to this sharing of stories and tales of horror, even then, you still experience a weakness in your limbs and the churning of your stomach. Simply because you know — you know bad things are coming.

This anticipation of the macabre, the slightly guilty pleasure found in indulging the darker side of ourselves, this feeling will find you once again, but this time it will be around the stage of the Chief Theatre.

From the moment the curtain lifts on "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" your heart will be racing and your mind spinning. In this adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Jekyll is truly a man haunted by legions, most of them enhanced, and in all cases enabled, by a potion of his own making. The fine performances by Randall J. Funk, Erin Mae Johnson, Joel Raney, Matt Sciple, Peter Simmons and Katherine Tieben-Holt who, between the five of them share some 22 different roles, give us a glimpse into the self-inflicted terror that one slowly realizes must accompany Dr. Jekyll’s every breath.

It is his own realization of this inescapable fact, his acceptance of the horror that he has unleashed within himself that brings us to the edge of our seats. Perhaps we are so fascinated by this descent into darkness because we ourselves know how precarious and fine the line is between light and dark, good and evil, love and hate, birth and death.

Pulled into the intrigue, chaos and confusion as surely as Dr. Jekyll is pulled by his demons (and there are many) into the strong current of an unstoppable river of insanity, we find ourselves wanting to watch, wanting to understand and yes, even wanting to witness the depths of depravity one man can plumb. This river Dr. Jekyll sets out upon promises smooth sailing above, while beneath its calm waters churn whirlpools and eddies, the likes of which will drown even the strongest swimmer. Yet, so sure is he of his god-like ability to control the very unhinging of his own soul, the existence of which he oddly refuses to acknowledge, we begin to believe the same. We believe in him, believe that he can and will overcome the madness that would surely overtake someone of lesser character than the staunchly upright and decent Dr. Jekyll. He is, at first glimpse, a man beyond reproach, capable of great compassion for humanity as he battles against those who would cast aside the less fortunate. Only later do we find that destroying them is one of the many hideous gifts he is possessed of, or possessed by.

"I thought I was the master of my fate, but I had only dreamt it," Dr. Jekyll laments…or is it Mr. Hyde?

And just when you begin to think you understand, the play and its capable ensemble will leave you behind, confused and unsure of where you are headed but wanting desperately to continue the ride; to see the accident for yourself, to experience the ending, if only to retell it breathlessly and unsteady in your own seat, around the fire on a dark, summer night.

Artistic director Zach Curtis has added some haunting extras of his own to this production and is well-assisted in this with lighting design by Grant Merges, costume design by Alexandra Gould, property design by Teresa McGriff, scenic design by Adam Terry, sound design by Jordan Daoust and stage manager Morgan Holmes.

Performances of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are underwritten by Paul Bunyan Communications and made possible, in part, by a grant from the Region 2 Arts Council.

The show opens tonight at 8 in the Historic Chief Theater, continuing through July 13 with the exception of Thursday, the Fourth of July. Tickets for all performances are $22 for adults and $10 for students with a 2 p.m. matinee July 7 featuring $18 tickets. All tickets may be purchased through the box office at (218) 751-7270, online at www. or on the Chief Theatre or Paul Bunyan Playhouse Facebook pages.