Turning a Ghostly “Screw” at GWC
By Tom Titus
Just in time for pre-Halloween entertainment comes “The Turn of the Screw,” Jeffrey Hatcher’s eerie adaptation of Henry James’ classic ghost story, on stage through Oct 19 at Golden West College in Huntington Beach.
There are plenty of spirits in this tale, but you won’t see them from your seat in the audience. It’s a “memory play” both performed and narrated by its principal character, a middle-aged governess in charge of two troublesome children at a vintage manor in 1872 England.
She’s one of two characters in the abbreviated (70 minutes) one-act play, the other being an actor who interprets several roles – men, women and one of the children (the other doesn’t speak). Director Tom Amen successfully establishes an air of mystery and terror which manifests itself in the minds of the playgoers.
In a performance of frightening magnitude, Camille Lacey portrays the maiden governess who signs on to serve a mysterious and unseen master of the manor, which is haunted by the spirits of her predecessor and a creepy valet who, we are to believe, seduced her before both perished.
Lacey delivers a remarkable interpretation, blending a genuine sense of affection for the children with an abject horror when confronted with the ghosts of “Jessel,” the onetime governess, and “Quint,” the evil servant.
Paul Jasser enacts the other character, or more accurately “characters” – the manor’s fluttery housekeeper, the troubled young boy and other fringe personages, even bird sounds. He also shares narrating duty in a spectral manner well suited for the surroundings.
Jasser is at his most effective when portraying the young boy, Miles, who attempts to establish dominion over the new governess. His seductive nature in one so young is quite astonishing, to say the least.
The production is quite ambiguous because, as Amen explains, “Henry James intended it that way” in his original novella. The show raises more questions than answers, and both actors are skilled in shielding the truth of the piece from the audience. Whether they could sustain such a mood over the length of a traditional play is quite another matter.
The setting – which consists solely of a long staircase, is the work of Frederick P. DePontee, who also designed the unsettling lighting effects. Sylvia Boutelle’s costumes (heavy on the black) and makeup add depth to the show, as do the sound effects of Veronica Mullins.
“The Turn of the Screw” concludes the weekend of Oct. 17-19 in the Mainstage Theater on the Golden West campus, with Friday and Saturday curtain at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 and $14, and reservations are taken at (714) 895-8150 or online at http://www.gwctheater.com.
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