The Turn of the Screw
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
From the novel by Henry James
Directed by Anne Hering
With Suzanne O’Donnell and Eric Hissom
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL
There’s either something supernatural going on here, or we’ve got some clever kids with serious separation anxiety. Little Miles and Flora lost their parents, and are now the wards of their uncle (Hissom) in far off London. He hires a governess (O’Donnell) for them on two conditions – she is totally responsible for the children, and she must never contact him about them. Off she goes to gothicly dark Ely House and at first things go well – Flora is friendly but refuses to speak, but soon the housekeeper makes ominous statements and Miles appears, sent down from boarding schools for “unspeakable acts.” Exactly what isn’t to be spoken of is never clear, but Miles is sneaky, manipulative, and until he’s old enough to stand for the House of Commons, he’ll satisfy himself with torturing The Governess. There’s a dark past in this house with murder, suicide and unauthorized hanky-panky driving people to dark visions, potential hallucinations, and an exorcisms. All that’s lacking is a spinning head with spewing green pea soup vomit.
In her bustle and black brocade, O’Donnell sails forth like a ship on stormy waters, rolling from joy to despair and back to sheer fright as Miles tortures her. He demands to be sent back to school, and her best course of action would be to agree, and pick a school in Australia. Hissom pops between characters with the studied experience of an old pro – his Miles entraps your gaze, his Housekeeper wobbles physically and emotionally, and as the Distant Uncle, he’s knowledgeable enough to stay the heck out of evil Essex. They act on a set blacker than Beth Marshall’s old garage, and sparingly lit by Eric Haugen’s minimal collection of pin spots and clever backlighting through the largest pieces of Victorian lace I’ve ever seen. It’s moody, atmospheric, and just smoky enough to spread the light without making the customers cough.
So did the butler do it? That’s left intentionally unsolved, sort of like the name of the murderer in a Sleuths’ show. But I have a theory; it’s based on the repeated use of the word “seduction” and Mile’s offhand remark about where babies are made. I’ll whisper it in your ear some day, but if I’m wrong you can build a case for anything from Satanic possession to female hysteria to ergot in the rye croutons. It’s lonely in Essex and there’s not a lot of social checks and balances in the grand house, so anything is possible. And that’s the essence of horror – paint the shadows, and let them do the talking. They positively scream on this stage.
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