note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Many adaptations of Henry James’ 1898 ghostly tale, “Turn of the Screw,” have been produced as plays, operas, and movies, each one with its own twist on this tale of terror.
Last February, the Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) presented a superb multimedia production of Benjamin Britten’s 1954 classic opera, “The Turn of the Screw,” in the Park Plaza Castle in Boston, where the atmosphere in the austere stone edifice enhanced the tale’s eeriness.
At the Stoneham Theatre, Director Caitlan Lowans uses no props, no enhancements, except a huge roped web suspended over the stage and audience, along with lighting designer Gianni Downs‘ carefully timed blackouts and glowing white spotlights during this one-act, 80-minute show. Lowans chose Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation, written for a ghostly duet, but based on James‘ spooky novella, in which he strips the story down to its raw elements. Without affecting costume changes, accomplished actor-playwright Ryan Landry plays multiple roles. Molly Schreiber portrays an enthusiastic-neurotic governess, whose story is related from reading and re-enacting her journal’s daily entries.
By doing so, this production is like a story-telling session instead of a play, thus diluting its diabolical, paranormal overtone. Landry facilely evolves into the handsome London gentleman who hires the governess to care for his two orphaned wards, on the bucolic, lakeside Bly estate. He warns her that she must never contact or bother him regarding his niece and nephew’s care but must handle matters herself. Incorporating only voice, facial and physical gestures, Landry becomes devoted Bly housekeeper Mrs. Grose; little orphaned Flora, who doesn’t speak; Flora’s 10-year-old brother, Miles, who is charming, but has been expelled from a private school; and the diabolical ghost of evil caretaker, Peter Quint, a voiceless spirit who appears in the window, on the tower, and in the shadows. Although she isn’t portrayed, we’re aware of another ghost - the governess‘ predecessor, a lovely young lady named Miss Jessel, who was romantically involved with Quint and drowned herself in the lake, after his mysterious death. As Quint’s ghost lures Miles, trying to possess his soul, Miss Jessel lures little Flora into the garden and across the lake.
Although Landry performs admirably in all characterizations, he’d be more effective by using accessories to enhance their identities, such as a shawl for Mrs. Grose or a bonnet for Flora. Landry also supplies sound effects, cooing like a kingfish bird, or plink-a-plinking, like Miles‘ piano-playing. Staged sound effects for creaking doors, evil shadows and rain-splashed storms, are barely audible.
Molly Schreiber is generally effective as the eager, dedicated governess, but her affected British accent is a hindrance, making it difficult to detect what she’s saying.
Apparently, this “Turn of the Screw” needs to be turned up
. On Nov. 5 at 7 p.m., (before the 8 p.m. performance), meet mediums MaryLee Trettenero of Charlestown and Mary D’Alba of Stoneham in Medium Cool, when they share tales of communicating with the spirit world. On Nov. 7, after the 2 p.m. matinee, share hot fudge sundaes and talkback with Lowans, Landry and Schreiber at Sundaes on Sunday. Both events are free for theatergoers that day.
BOX INFO: One-act, two-person, 80-minute adaptation of Henry James’ novella, by Jeffrey Hatcher, appearing through Nov. 7, at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham. Performances are Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4.8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets, $38-$44; senior discount; students, $20. Call 781-279-2200 or visit www.stonehamtheatre.org.