The Turn of the Screw at Morris-Jumel Mansion
NY Theater Review By Eric J. Grimm
Seasonal scares are in store for those who venture to the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights for Everyday Inferno’s stage adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.” Perhaps the most buttoned-up erotic thriller of all time, James’ novella is well suited for an intimate stage interpretation. The creative team has great fun with this production, making excellent use of their space and striking a fine balance between the horror and humor of this timeless gothic tale.
Playwright Jamie Wylie never strays far from the source material, but wisely expands the framing device that features well-to-do Douglas (Scott David Reeves) relating the story of a governess (Meg Kiley Smith) charged with caring for two possibly possessed siblings (Leslie Gauthier and Sam Ogilvie), both very well cast as young servants and small children. Douglas tells the story to obnoxious aristocrats who double as the characters in the governess’ tale. The doubling up of characters works well with the ghost story, particularly in this production where the audience sees the action unfold in a parlor. The only problem with the framing device is that it disappears near the end, though the governess’ story concludes so chillingly that it is hard to imagine a more fitting ending.
Director Anais Koivisto, who also designed the costumes, uses minimal lighting and her unconventional venue to her advantage. Windows and a small foyer become small stages for frightening supernatural occurrences that jolted me even though I was familiar with the story. Victorian horror may seem to be easy to translate to stage, but Koivisto is adventurous in both her direction and costumes as she explores the sexual elements of James’ work. She never skimps on the homoeroticism or implied pedophilia that heighten the surreal nature of the story. One of her smartest moves is constricting the governess to a dreary gray dress and shawl that cover nearly every inch of her from the neck down and render her a sexless mother figure solely concerned with the well being of two very strange children.
The actors turn in solid performances, particularly Meg Kiley Smith as the good-spirited and probably insane governess. Smith draws all eyes to her even when she’s not speaking; such is her total embodiment of this role. Her governess is a stunted woman desperate to find human connection in the most questionable of characters. A more standard interpretation might have had the governess shrieking at every ghastly opportunity, but with support from the creative team of this excellent production, Smith finds great depth in the character and is never afraid to suggest that this caregiver may be one of the sources of these nightmarish events.
The Turn of the Screw runs until November 2nd at the Morris-Jumel Mansion. For tickets, visit http://theturnofthescrew.brownpapertickets.com/.
Photos: Kyle Rosenberg