Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Turn of the Screw
November 05, 2007
By Christopher Murray
"I'm rather easily carried away, I fear," says the nameless governess in the Wake Up, Marconi! production of Turn of the Screw, Henry James' classic ghost story, here in a clever two-actor adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher originally presented by Portland Stage. Both actors — the attentive, prim, and expectant Melissa Pinsly as the governess and the cadaverous and chameleonlike Steve Cook in a host of roles — are disciplined and intelligent in their portrayals but, alas, don't ever really get carried away themselves.
And Don K. Williams' fine-tuned direction in conjunction with Mark Delancy's sparse raked-platform set and Karl Chmielewski's elegant and economical lighting can't do by themselves what is the sine qua non of a ghost story: raise hackles on the back of your neck.
The story of a governess, barely more than a child herself, sent to a lonely estate to take care of two precocious children is well-known for it's exploration of innocence betrayed by craven carnality. Who is actually corrupted in the tale is part of the theme as James explores the trauma of moving into the haunting knowledge of adulthood with all its potential for depravity.
There have been plenty of adaptations, including the 1954 Benjamin Britten-Myfanwy Piper opera and the 1961 Truman Capote-William Archibald-John Mortimer screenplay for director Jack Clayton's The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr. Hatcher's relies heavily on the audience's ability to empathize with the terror of the governess and her intense drive to protect her charges from supernatural enmity.
It also requires the actor playing all the other roles — a housemaid; the little boy, Miles; the uncle; and the narrator — to switch characters instantaneously and recognizably, which Cook does well.But, ultimately, the precision of this production leaves little room for the inexplicable and, as the governess says — and it applies to audiences as well — "What children want is a mystery."

Presented by Wake Up, Marconi! at Bank Street Theatre, 55 Bank St., NYC. Nov. 3-17. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Additional performance Sat., Nov. 17, 2 p.m.) (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatremania.com.

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