Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Turn of The Screw"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark

"The Turn of The Screw"

Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
from the novel by Henry James
Directed by Steven Maler

Music by Haddon Kime
Scenic Design by Richard Chambers
Lighting Design by Daniel Meeker
Costume Design by Jana Durland Howland
Production Stage Manager Jessica Rae Chartoff

The Man.....................Phillip Patrone
The Woman....................Aysan Celik

Richard Chambers has thrown what looks like a diagonal wall of English panelling across the stage-right rear of the intimate New Rep stage, but Daniel Meeker's moodily specific lights melt it repeatedly to show shadowed figures, or hints of wintry forest. There is a single chair on the richly patterned floor, and only two people. Aysan Celik plays a young governess wrestling with demons, Phillip Patrone plays all others in "The Turn of The Screw". Jana Durland Howland's elegantly bustled dress and properly tailed suit are perfectly in period, and Director Steven Maler and adapter Jeffrey Hatcher have combined to make a great piece of theater --- exciting, shocking, gripping, even droll at times early on --- out of the Henry James classic.

People who love James, or his short novel may find Hatcher's stage recreation spare in comparison, but since I am fond of neither I have nothing to compare it to and much prefer it that way. I managed once to read a novel of his all the way through to the end at which point I hurled it cross the room uttering several short Anglo-Saxon expletives. It is my firm belief that God in his infinite wisdom gave the world Ernest Hemingway to keep Henry James from "maybe'-ing literature out of existence entirely. But I digress.

This ninety-minute version, with intensely felt playing that makes an audience see what the characters see, feel what the words often hesitate to express, is a triumph of theatrical minimalism. Patrone changes easily from the oddly hesitant bachelor lawyer engaging a governess for his orphaned niece and nephew to the reticent housekeeper to the ten-year-old boy whose soul seems at stake. Celik's changes though are more complicated --- from a flirtful girl to an increasingly horrified contender with a brace of ghosts. And it's all done with dramatic lighting, bits of mime and gesture, and the involvement of spectators by speaking to them directly.

The story --- and people who have read it may correct my misprisions --- turns eventually on a pair dead of their romantic, passionate, riotous love who are bent on possessing the boy and his speechless little sister so that, through them, they may again touch one another. (I wouldn't have thought old Henry even knew of such things.) The ghosts are presences, beckoning from afar, while the governess and housekeeper wrestle with their problem while trying not to disturb their coldly indifferent uncle. And the end is not a happy one for any of them.

The whole is, however, a happy gift for lovers of gripping theater. And, luckily for me, I have been given the story without having to wade in with a machete and cut it from James' thickets of insufferable prose. Everybody wins.


"The Turn of The Screw" (till 9 April)
54 Lincoln Street, NEWTON HIGHLANDS
1(617) 332-1646

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide