note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
Just two actors bring the Henry James novel "The Turn of The Screw" to life but you'll leave the theater certain you saw every character --- uncle, children, housekeeper --- and every frightening shadow of the James story. Jeffrey Hatcher's clever stage adaptation of the ghost story stays very close to James' intent. In withholding information from the reader and presenting only what the characters themselves see, James allows the reader (here the audience) to draw its own conclusions. Did the impressionable governess see these ghosts, or did she hallucinate them?
A Broadway incarnation with Claire Bloom as the governess called "The Innocents" presented the ghosts in the flesh, mitigating the psychological dimension of the story. Happily, it's restored in Hatcher's adaptation.
Director Steven Maler's production reinforces the governess' angle of vision. She feels the ghosts closing in on her and, in Richard Chambers' skewed set --- a deep, dark walnut panelled wall running diagonally across the stage --- they do: when the walls become transparent, we see the sinister branches in the garden reaching toward her, even extending into the house. When lit by Daniel Meeker, the branch closest to us glistens as if encrusted with beads of water. The floor is criss-crossed with ominous shadows which march over the governess as she tries to enlist God to save the souls of the children in her charge.
Phillip Patrone plays the little boy with an eerie stare. He plays the uncle as a haughty patrician, and he portrays the housekeeper with all the gusto of Dame Margaret Rutherford. In short, Patrone's performances are perfection.
As the governess, Aysan Celik makes the formidable journey from naif to Christian soldier with considerable aplomb. Jana Durland Howland's costume for Celik reflects the change of personality by having her remove a pert bonnet whose feather bobs up and down nervously at play's start. Without the bonnet she takes charge; without the bonnet, she can face any demon.
James was a failure as a playwright, his métier being the novel. So it is ironic that his novels --- this one and "Washington Square" (a k a "The Heiress") have become so successful now on stage. What a pleasure to see the world two actors can create with a bit of magic.