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The Turn of the Screw

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Henry James, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher

COMPANY : Onstage Atlanta, Inc. [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Onstage Atlanta, Inc. (Decatur) [WEBSITE]
ID# 2504

SHOWING : October 19, 2007 - November 10, 2007

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Based on the provocative tale of suspense, horror and repressed sexuality, this adaptation gives the famous story yet another turn of its own. A young governess journeys to care for two recently orphaned children who are haunted by their former governess and the sadistic valet. The young heroine is left to wonder; are the ghosts real, or are they the products of her fevered imagination?


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Rachel White
Lighting Design Michael Magursky
Set Design Barry N. West
Governess Barbara Cole Uterhardt
Cast LEN HEDGES-GOEHL
Man John Markowski
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Turned Me On!
by MeisnerGuy
Friday, November 16, 2007
4.0
I wish I had been able to review this before it closed, but unfortunately computer problems prevented this.

I got to see one of the special "After Hours" presentation of this show, and I'm not sure if it was the proximity to the witching hour or just my overactive imagination, but this show definitely brought a chill up my spine - in a good way.

While Ms. Cole and Mr. Markowski are excellent actors, the star of this show was Mr. Magursky's lighting design. Aside from the one obvious moment when the gobo machine was creaking out the water effect, every other lighting moment in show was exquisite. Combined with the fog effects and the actor's movements at times it felt as if there were 3-4 people on the stage.

I'll admit at times I was completely lost as to what was going on, and the story was not as compelling as I hoped it to be - I really wanted to be scared out of my seat as the hype promoted. But still the performances of these two very talented actors kept me interested even when I was confused (I blame the beers at Melton's before hand - which also meant I had a strong urge to go to the bathroom. Not good for a show with no intermission).

Overall, though, a very enjoyable production. I hope that Onstage continues to grow and start building an audience.

-MG [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Missing a Few Turns
by Dedalus
Friday, November 16, 2007
3.5
So, what do you do when you’re writing about a play featuring friends, based on a story you’ve always had a fondness for, and you leave the theatre frustrated and disappointed? Well, you get out your eggshell-walkers, you tread carefully, and, most important, you hold off until after the last performance (easily done here, since the performance I saw was the next to the last).

In a nutshell, I wasn’t impressed with this particular adaptation of Henry James’ classic novella. To me, it emphasized “layers of meaning” over a sense of mystery, threw in some Freudian psychology as a justification for Victorian Moral confusion, and added sexual overtones that misfired on every level imaginable. And, while I was impressed with the technical skill on display from stars Barbara Cole Uterhardt and John Markowski, their performances struck me as more cerebral than “from the gut,” seeming to emphasize intellectual cleverness over emotional reality. Considering the level of their work in “Bash” earlier this year, I was sometimes surprised at the missed opportunities for creating an emotional “through line” that should have threaded through the piece. This was a “screw” that definitely needed a few more tightening “turns.”

To summarize, an unnamed governess has taken an unusual posting – she is to care for the orphaned nephew and niece of a London Gentleman who wants nothing to do with the children. She moves into a large country estate, where ghosts may (or may not) be seeking control of the children. What follows is a battle for the souls of the “innocents,” from either sinister spirits from beyond, or from the more mundane madness of their equally innocent (perhaps) governess.

Because of the way Henry James’ original novella was constructed, a certain amount of narrative ambiguity is necessary. Because the story is told from the limited point of view of the governess, we see only what she chooses to tell us. If she is indeed drifting into madness, her “witness” and narrative is certainly suspect. By the same token, what she describes is shrouded in plenty of mystery of its own – what exactly do the ghosts want? Exactly how did they die? And how much of a role does the Governess herself play in the fates of the children?

The problem is, when the story is reproduced on stage, this “First-Person” perspective is lost. It wasn’t ambiguity that I experienced as much as it was confusion. So much in this adaptation is left unsaid that I didn’t feel an uncomfortable feeling of dislocation – are the ghosts really there or not? – I felt an irritating feeling of not being able to follow the story (even though I already knew it). When the final conflict began, I didn’t have that eerie edge-of-your seat sense of a classic ghost story, I felt like I was being manipulated by a playwright/adaptor who wanted me to think he’s smarter than I.

It doesn’t help that all characters except the governess were played by a single actor in a single costume, including the boy Miles and the female housekeeper Mrs. Grose (in a nice turn that in lesser hands would have come across as too campy). A sexual overtone was added between the governess and the boy, Miles, which misfired dreadfully – what should shock (this is a pre-adolescent boy kissing an adult woman, after all) is only just another kiss between apparent contemporaries. What should be a violation of the innocence of both characters is only the playwright’s ploy to add an unnecessary level of Freudian subtext that is anachronistic, unsupported, and unconvincing. And, although Ms. Cole does a fine job of showing shock and surprise during the scene, it seemed to me a wrong choice – it was more like the shock of being suddenly kissed, than the horror of being seduced by a child.

And, framing the story with a grown-up Miles (rather than the unconnected school chum of the book) only added to the narrative confusion, especially for those of us who know the story. It’s another unnecessary layer of disinformation. And, if I may be allowed my own “I’m smarter than the adapter moment,” it seemed as if the adapter didn’t understand what was really going on, so he decided to throw in a lot of “disinformation” to ensure we won’t either. It’s a miscalculation often made by “pseudointellectuals” (like, ahem, me) – the less you know the creepier it should be. But there’s a big difference between eeriness through “not knowing” and confusion through disinformation that is actually contradictory. It’s not paradox; it’s fuzzy thinking and bad writing/plotting.

On the positive side, the production was well-directed and well-designed to enhance the creepiness and mystery the script should have provided. Disjointed pieces of scenery and furniture were nicely lit with narrow and oddly angled lights that seemed to catch the characters by surprise (if a motorized gobo meant to simulate reflected water made more noise than was justified for the onstage effect, I can easily attribute that to a late-in-the run fuzziness of focus). Lights were a tad too bright or a tad too low. The bits of scenery were ever so slightly (and effectively) “off.” Drifting mists swirled with shadow and danger. Even the sounds from the bowling alley over the theatre, the usual bumps and thumps, were, in the ambiance of this play, an enhancement rather than a distraction.

Still and all, the final effect of this play was one of frustration, not of suspense and fear. There are plenty of opportunities for ambiguities and “layers of meaning” in the original novella. It seemed as if this adaptation wanted to “justify” the marvelous taste of suspense of the macabre that comes with classic Victorian Ghost Stories by adding modern Freudian Symbolism and extra “layers-of-disinformation.” That decision, in my humble opinion, served only to ground a vehicle that, considering the talent involved here, should have soared.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com) [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Good acting but oh so boring
by g8grrl
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
3.0
I saw this show with my father, who is a fan of american literature. He doesnt usually like theatre, and I usually don't like old books. So seeing this together was a compromise. It turns out my dad loved the show, and I thought it was terrible. Me, I was bored out of my mind. I never read the book, so it was hard for me to follow the storyline. And the actors played different people, so I didn’t always know who was who. But I’m telling you, my father really enjoyed himself. Yay! He thought the acting was great and the adaption overall was well done. I will agreed with him about the actors, they are talented. But to me they were stuffy and didn’t’ seem real, like the acting in an old video shown in a boring american lit class on a rainy day. Dread. I give it a 1.0, my dad gives it a 5.0. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Different Strokes by Mama Alma
I'm sorry you found the story difficult to follow. Though I hadn't read the book, I was familiar with the plot. I also admit to being a lit bug in general, like your dad, and did my high school thesis on Henry James, in particular. I mention these things because they may have had something to do with why I was so blown away by this performance. As for stuffy, I wonder if you find English period pieces that way in general? (My husband runs away very fast when I put on one of my Jane Austen DVDs.)

In reading your other reviews, I had already guessed you were quite a bit younger than I (most people are these days). The age thing may also have played into your lack of enjoyment. (You inherently realized this in contrasting your view with your dad's.) I know my daughter believes Dazed and Confused to be a wonderful film, full of stellar performances. Critics agree with her. I've tried on several occasions to watch it, and it's one of the few (read 2) movies I have ever stopped watching in the middle because I just don't get it. But I try.

My point (and I do have one) is that I hope you don't give up on theater that might be challenging for you, or out of your comfort zone. Sometimes those experiences turn out to be undiscovered gems. You have the ability to pinpoint what you did like among the things you didn't, and the wisdom to temper that with some objectivity, and that's a skill not everyone owns.
Different Strokes by Mama Alma
I'm sorry you found the story difficult to follow. Though I hadn't read the book, I was familiar with the plot. I also admit to being a lit bug in general, like your dad, and did my high school thesis on Henry James, in particular. I mention these things because they may have had something to do with why I was so blown away by this performance. As for stuffy, I wonder if you find English period pieces that way in general? (My husband runs away very fast when I put on one of my Jane Austen DVDs.)

In reading your other reviews, I had already guessed you were quite a bit younger than I (most people are these days). The age thing may also have played into your lack of enjoyment. (You inherently realized this in contrasting your view with your dad's.) I know my daughter believes Dazed and Confused to be a wonderful film, full of stellar performances. Critics agree with her. I've tried on several occasions to watch it, and it's one of the few (read 2) movies I have ever stopped watching in the middle because I just don't get it. But I try.

My point (and I do have one) is that I hope you don't give up on theater that might be challenging for you, or out of your comfort zone. Sometimes those experiences turn out to be undiscovered gems. You have the ability to pinpoint what you do like among the things you don't, and the wisdom to temper that with some objectivity, and that's a skill not everyone owns.
No more than a 5? How about a 10!
by theatrepal
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
5.0
So you wanna be an actor? Or maybe you like directing? You could possibly be one of the few brave souls who love designing.
Well, if any of these are you, then you MUST see this show. There is no reason for you to miss it with a schedule including 11:00 performances, as well as a Halloween showing.
Mama Alma called this a master class...and she is correct. Lucky for us, it is only $10-$15.

So why, you may ask, is it worth my time running over after a show or spending my Oct 31 at the theater?
1 - The play itself. Based on the psychological thriller by Henry James, this 2 person adaptation adds a new level of psychology to the mix. The adaptation transforms the story from a tale about children possessed by ghosts to a haunting question of abuse, and what we are really witnessing. We don't know what we see even when the actor is right in front of us.

2 - The lighting. There are no words to describe the way the theater felt when I first walked in. Mr. Magursky did a wonderful job of making me feel that I was in England on a foggy cold night. He scared me. He spooked me. He made me question what I was seeing. All exquisite pictures and definitely memorable as I think back on the show.

3 - The directing. I have never seen Rachel White's work before and it seems that she has more experience acting than directing (known only by her bio in the program). But, I cannot wait to see more of her work. Her blocking is easy and fluid. Her timing is impeccable. She is a wonderful conductor of her whole production, which is a symphony of sound, lights, thick air, a gripping story, and the greatest story tellers...

4 - The acting. If you have ever seen Barbara Cole Uterhardt, then skip to the next paragraph, because I probably won't say anything you don't already know. She is amazing! How she can convey so many reactions, faces, moods, and only be standing in one place I will never know. She is trapped in a very period costume with very little movement across the stage but her face and hands do it all for her. Watch how she reaches out towards the lake with only her eyes and then fall in love with her each time she touches the locket (especially when she first picks it up). She is the greatest actress at portraying strength, femininity, fear, adoration, and smarts all in the same second. And how does she find her light like that? It can't be as easy as it looks?
John Markowski won me over during last Spring's "Bash" and here he is really a multiple personality. He must be 3 different characters and he has an uncanny ability to transform just before our eyes. With just the turn of a head he becomes an old housekeeper and with the purse of his lips he is a 10 year old boy. My favorite was the uncle -- the shortest lived character (without counting any spirits he embodied...let us save that for a conversation on whether or not the spirits actually exist). A selfish man who cares about nothing besides money and sex (watch him watch her when she is turned away) is always a guilty pleasure and just delicious to me.
Watch these actors and learn. Take notes. This is how you do it!

All of these fit togeether perfectly to form a rich, vibrant show that I will be thinking about for years to come. The chills I had in the last 5 minutes of the show stayed with me all night. And I will definitely remember the hallway moment whenever the power goes out.
This is live theatre so I will not get into the comparison between this production and movies/shows in the same genre. As much as they may have in common, this is LIVE! The fact that this was all happening in front of me and I was shocked, horrified, moved, and, I am sure, still missed a million things is the reason I see theatre. I can't wait to see it again. Maybe for a Halloween treat.

BRAVO to OnStage!

And now I quote another patron on their cellphone as we left the theatre: "you must see this show--no excuses".

added later:
I know there is a lot to see and many shows closing soon, but be sure you see this one! If you miss it, you will regret it. This is the best thing I have seen in years! Really!!
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A Trick of the Light
by Mama Alma
Thursday, October 25, 2007
5.0
Henry James' Turn of the Screw has been called the finest ghost story ever written, owing in no small part to its rich and varied interpretation. Its influence can be felt in such diverse modern venues as the horror soap opera Dark Shadows, the current ABC series Lost, and M. Night Shyamalan's classic The Sixth Sense.

I was reminded of Sixth Sense's debt to Turn of the Screw after watching OnStage Atlanta's production of Jeffrey Hatcher's two actor adaptation. Both stories are ostensibly ghost stories, involving children in peril whom an adult is trying to extricate. Both involve absent fathers, isolated protagonists, intimations of abuse, struggling single "mothers," and a young "different" male child at the center of the maelstrom. Both stories are deep, psychological pieces insistent in a belief that secrets hidden are injurious and that to expose them to the light of day will effect a cure.

Director Rachel White tapped Barbara Cole Uterhardt and John Markowski, both so effective in last season's Bash (latter day plays) to play the governess and her ten-year-old charge, Miles. Uterhardt plays the governess as strong, resolute, loftily ambitious with just a hint of avarice (after all, she muses, Miss Jane Eyre started out as a mere governess, did she not?). She does not allow us to see her fear: she is repulsed by the ghosts' carnal designs, but full of steely English resolve, steadfast in her belief in herself as the children's protector. The chink in her armor appears, significantly, when Flora, Miles' little sister, wanders into the lake. It is the lowly and practical housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, not the resolute governess, who swims in to rescue Flora. Dark water, it turns out, terrifies the governess.

Markowski plays not only the boy Miles, but the governess' employer (a soon-to-be-absent "father"), and the elderly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. That Markowski accomplishes this latter characterization with nothing more than a change of posture and accent is an acting class in itself. He morphs back and forth with ease, and even stands in for the ghost during one incredible scene -- more about that later. His ability to move from childlike innocence to adult carnality in the blink of an eye is crucial to one shocking display which brought an audible gasp from the audience the night I was there. Neither of these actors has any problem chewing up scenery, and mindful of this, director Rachel White wisely removed most of it so they could conduct their master class.

This is not to imply that the lack of scenery is a detraction from the production: far from it. In fact, the severe stage, and somber costuming combine to form the perfect backdrop for the third "actor" in OnStage's production, Mike Magursky's amazing lighting. From faces that eerily float out of the fog to a bright and dewy English morning, his robust spots and stark shadows are fearlessly provoking. Anyone who has ever for one second thought they'd like to pursue lighting as a career should not miss this skillful presentation. We become inured to the glossy FX of cinema, but Magursky's lights are something more akin to stage magic. In one remarkable illusion, the governess stands in the manor hallway with the ghost Peter Quint at her shoulder. Uterhardt is brilliantly lit, but Markowski, next to her, dissolves into a mere shadow. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

It is perhaps fitting that Turn of the Screw shares one last attribute with The Sixth Sense. Remember the moment when Bruce Willis' psychologist finds another meaning to young Cole's "secret" that he sees dead people? The entire film is stood on its head as the audience becomes aware that what they believe they have "seen" is not actually what they have watched. A revelation of similar import (the turn of the screw, if you will) occurs at OnStage and we're not quite sure, at the end, what really happened, and just whose face Evil wore: after all, the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape, or maybe, at OnStage, to wrap itself in Magursky's magnificent lights.
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