“The Turn of the Screw” A ghostly performance

“The Turn of the Screw”  A ghostly performance

Maggie Conley, Staff Writer

Last Thursday, while most people were cramming in reading, homework, dinner, and the possible opportunity to shop for groceries on the bus to Wegmans, I took part in a theatrical experience unlike any other when I saw “The Turn of the Screw” at Syracuse Stage.

“The Turn of the Screw” is a short novel written by Henry James and adapted for theater by Jeffrey Hatcher. I previously read the novel for English class in preparation to see the show, but reading a novel is always a different experience than seeing something visually, whether it is on screen or onstage.

However, the ability to do live theatre and to do it well is a task all in itself. “The Turn of the Screw” is a ghost story, but it’s not what you would typically think of when you hear “ghost story.” It is somewhat of a psychological thriller that will have you guessing until the very last second.

The story follows a governess who takes on a job to watch two children, Miles and Flora. Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, accompanies the governess as the only other adult in the household. Events unfold as the governess sees a ghost whom readers are later informed is Peter Quint, the late valet driver for the master. Some questions are posed: What are the ghosts here for? Why do they seem to be in cahoots with the children? As the story progresses, the governess assumes that the ghosts are after the children and therefore taking over their souls.

The play, however, takes a radical turn from specific threads of description and character points included in the book. The Syracuse Stage production consists of two actors who play the entirety of the roles. Curzon Dobell plays “The Man,” a role that consists of playing the uncle, Mrs. Grose, Douglass (the storyteller), and Miles, the young boy. Kristen Sieh plays the governess.

The overall show is very inventive; Dobell takes on numerous personae, which calls for different body language skills and the ability to change one’s voice or dialect for each character. The two actors perform on a small stage, running around in place to show the passing of distance. Light changes and sudden interruptions of speech evoke a change of characters. Both actors take on huge tasks that most actors don’t have to deal with when performing in a show.

Novels show narrative and description in each event that occurs. However, as a playwright, one must write for an audience that knows no back story and cannot read the characters’ thoughts. Thus, Sieh demonstrates mastery at narrating the events of the story while still playing the character of the governess. Both actors display high talent with their dialects and abilities to take on characters from a different world full of terror and suspense.

It’s not your everyday theater experience, but “The Turn of the Screw” is a unique, theatrical, and inventive event that, despite some awkward and highly provocative moments, is definitely worth a recommendation.

The play runs until Oct. 16 at Syracuse Stage. For tickets, call the Syracuse Stage Box Office at 315-443-3275 or visit syracusestage.org.