“Jekyll & Hyde” brings expertly crafted horror to the Black Box

Junior Brian Clemente is noticeably excited for the opening of his Geneseo directorial debut of "Jekyll & Hyde."

"We've been rehearsing since the middle of February," he said of the musical, an entirely student-run production put on by Cothurnus and VegS.O.U.P.

Clemente said he has a specific goal for the show. "What I've tried to do is make this scary," he said. "[Horror] isn't normally something you see in theater, and that's what I've tried to bring here."

Given the show's subject matter, bone-chilling moments are certainly abundant. Taking place in late 19th century London, the story centers around Dr. Henry Jekyll (senior Jake Roa), a scientist who has formulated a potion that he believes holds the link between good and evil. Disenchanted by the lack of support from his peers, Jekyll decides that the only appropriate test subject for experimentation is himself.

Thus, Jekyll begins to take the potion regularly and morphs into his alter-ego: Edward Hyde (still played by Roa). Hyde is the polar opposite of the mild-mannered Jekyll; he shows utter disregard for the law and all of those around him, including his fiancée Emma Carew (sophomore Alexandra Mendes) and his best friend John Utterson (sophomore Joshua Horowitz). Hyde commits numerous murders and generally terrorizes London's upper class while Jekyll is left clinging to the last shreds of his sanity.

Such weighty subject matter requires superb acting talent, and the fact that the show is largely sung requires vocal chops as well. Luckily, the cast delivers in strides.

"They've been phenomenal," Clemente said. "They each bring something different to the show."

Mendes offers incredible vocal prowess and Horowitz plays the role of concerned bystander to a tee. Sophomore Julia Masotti also shines as Lucy Harris, a prostitute in search of a better life who, in the process, falls in love with Jekyll.

The spotlight, however, shines on Roa's masterful, shape-shifting performance. Clemente alluded to Roa's abundant previous experience by mentioning how many different Geneseo shows he has acted in.

Roa's experience is certainly evident; he is able to shift from character to character with ease and his throaty baritone soars above the orchestra. Roa's Hyde is a force to be reckoned with: a sneering, menacing persona whose utter apathy and acts of violence render him downright unsettling.

Another highlight of Roa's performance is the gradual eroding of Jekyll's character; one notices that, over the course of the show, Jekyll and Hyde are becoming one and the same.

The show is performed in the Robert Sinclair Black Box Theatre, a small space that, true to its name, is completely black. The set is simple: a few hand-painted and constructed platforms and a ladder that leads up to a catwalk. The fact that the setting changes frequently, however, justifies and complements the minimalism.

What the set lacks in extravagance is more than made up for in the lighting, designed by senior Mark Romano, which drastically enhances the mood of the show. The orchestra is also strong despite being only four parts: piano, violin, French horn and percussion.

Given the sheer talent, production value and unsettling ambience in "Jekyll," it's clear that Clemente's goal to terrify the audience will be met.

"Jekyll & Hyde" runs in the Black Box Theatre from April 7-9 at 8 p.m., with an additional show on April 9 at 2 p.m.