Play Review: TENSION MOUNTS IN COMPELLING “TURN OF THE SCREW”
By James F. Cotter
For the Times-Herald Record
October 14, 2009
SUSSEX, N.J. — Henry James wrote “The Turn of the Screw”
as a ghost story, but it turned out to be a psychological thriller.
For him, the twist in the plot was to have two orphaned
children encounter demonic spirits with the reader left
guessing what evil they intend. The story is narrated by their
governess, who tries to protect the boy and girl from harm,
but is she a trustworthy narrator? Is she too wrought up
and enamored of the uncle who has sent her to the remote
estate to supervise the two engaging wards? Readers are left
with even more guessing as they try to probe James’ original intention.
The short novel has been adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher for the stage and is being presented by the
Tri-State Actors Theater under the experienced direction of Paul Meacham.This adaptation
is unusual in that it calls for only two actors to play all the roles: the governess, of course, and then a
male actor for the rest. It is also performed without an intermission so that the audience is propelled
right into the “tale of terror” that takes place at Bly, the isolated country estate with its haunted
gothic rooms and tower, extensive grounds and adjoining lake.
Meacham’s set design captures the Victorian setting with a single large armchair, massive stairway and
shrubbery to suggest the lake. Patricia Meacham’s costumes also reflect the period with a long lady’s gown and
wraps and a man’s dark tight-fitting suit that requires no changes for the various parts.
As the governess, who remains unnamed in the tale she tells, Ellen Lindsay begins as a dreamy idealist who
forms an instant crush for the uncle who hires her on the condition that she never contact him no matter what
happens at Bly. She is just as enthusiastic when she first meets lovely little Flora, who remains mute
throughout the whole unfolding mystery, and handsome 10-year-old Miles, who has been dismissed from school
for some misbehavior that he is reluctant to discuss.
The governess soon becomes more ardent in her attachments and more determined to save the children as
she encounters the apparitions of evil that come to her, the former servants, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel,
who were lovers when they were alive. Lindsay is compelling to watch as she grows more frantic
and possessive toward Miles, embracing him and urging him to reveal his past secrets. They enjoy exchanging
riddles while becoming more enigmatic in their sexually fraught relationship.
As everybody else, Jason Guy gives a tour-de-force performance, coolly commanding as the seductive uncle,
twisted and cackling as the housemaid, Mrs. Grose, and bouncing up and down and whirling around as the
rambunctious Miles. Guy has a dancer’s and gymnast’s energy as he rapidly moves from role to role,
hardly pausing as he builds up tension that is leading to an unimaginable climax. It is all there in James’
text, only more dramatic and perilous as the havoc increases in the characters’ confrontations.
See for yourself how James, who never succeeded in the plays he wrote for the stage, will keep you on the
edge of your seat.