Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Turn of the Screw - October 31, 2007

Henry James's The Turn of the Screw has always been an intriguing source material for films and plays. The Twenty Feet Productions presentation of Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation is a little different than the others in that it is performed by only two people, Erin Cunningham, as the governess, and Tim Scott as all the other characters.

Using only two actors for this play absolutely works, especially when Cunningham's 'is she nutty or is she not' governess bounces off Scott's multiple characters from housekeeper to seductive employer. The question however is are these other characters figments of the governess's own mind or are they real. Using only two actors makes it very easy to believe the voices are all in her head. This is further enhanced by the fact that the entire performance is lit only with two hand-held candles. Each performer carries their candle and for the most part their faces are the only things illuminated in the slightly cavernous and fully black Bleecker Street Theater. While extremely effective I must admit that the lighting eventually became a bit uncomfortable, but because the storytellers on stage were so engaging I think this can easily be excused. Sound effects are also provided solely by the actors and Scott is to be commended for not overdoing his ghostly moaning but hitting the appropriate mark that makes us wonder, is it in fact just the house settling or is it the tortured spirits of Bly House that we hear?

The production values of the piece are low budget yet never cheap. The set consists of one table and one chair. Simplicity is the key to a good ghost story. Though the sound effects during the show are provided by the actors, pre-show there is a chill inducing prerecorded harpsichord playing and from time to time the electricity 'goes out' resulting in a slow winding down of the record which then swings back on as though nothing had happened. This seems a good-natured wink and nod to the audience that yes, we're going to try to scare you here so come along for the ride.

The Turn of the Screw is a difficult piece in that it is always ambiguous - there is no clear and precise wrap-up. As with all good ghost stories we are left wondering and must make our own decisions as to what really happened in the seven day span of the story. Twenty Feet Productions embraces that ambiguity and does not try to answer our questions but rather lets us decide for ourselves. This was a perfect Halloween season show, and perfect for anyone who enjoys a good ghost story.

The Turn of the Screw
Bleecker Street Theatre
45 Bleecker Street (just East of Lafayette Street)
Through November 3
Running Time:
75 minutes (no intermission - NO late seating)
Note: Appropriate 14+
Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre.


1 comment:

Aaron Riccio said...

Weird. That sounds like a great version of this play . . . which is odd, since it's also being done (at the same time) by Wake Up, Marconi! productions, over at the Bank Street Theater. I would've loved to have seen a version with what sound like better actors and far creepier staging.