Play Review: Two Turns’ The Turn of the Screw

New York, NY. This Saturday I saw Two Turns Theatre Company’s perform Jeffery Hatcher’s adaptation of the Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw.   The classic ghost story was performed in a room of the Merchant’s House Museum which is,reportedly haunted.

The Turn of the Screw has been performed around the world. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Merchant’s House’s eerie décor was wildly appropriate for the show.   The high ceilings and aged furniture placed the viewer right in the desolate mansion in which the story is set.   In fact, while the Two Turns Theatre Company seems to be a rather new addition to the New York play scene, their reported goal is to continue to try and pair interesting plays with various interesting locations in the city.   In this task the Company truly delivered.

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Gertrude Tredwell’s ghost reportedly still wanders the Merchant House Museum

The play was performed by two actors, one male and one female, in the double parlors inside the Merchant’s House.   A single row of seats circled the room creating an exceedingly intimate performance space.   The actors were forced to move from each extreme of the room in order to both utilize the oblong space and to keep each side of the room engaged.   Despite this odd challenge the actors ably managed the room.

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The Merchant’s House Museum looks much less haunted during the day

Further adding to the old world appeal of the production, both the male and female actors were dressed in appropriately 19th century clothing with the male, Vince Gatton, dressed in a dapper tuxedo with tails, while the female character, Christina LaFortune, wore a Victorian bustle dress that certainly fit the role of an 19th-century governess.

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The Turn of Screw centers around a palatial estate that is inhabited by two seemingly disturbed children and a housekeeper.   The master of the house refuses to be bothered with the children and sends the latest governess to attend to the home with strict instructions to never bother him.   These are instructions which the governess heeds even as the happenings around that home become progressively more sister.   The governess despite the warnings of the housekeeper seeks to get discover and undue the dark hold that the former groundskeeper and former governess have over the two children.

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The staging cleverly plays on the male/female pairs throughout the story.   Men and women show up in pairs throughout the play: the brother and sister, Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, and the governess and the Master of the House.   To highlight these pairings, the cast is made up of only two actors, a male and a female.   LaFortune plays the governess and Gatton plays the brother (Miles), the Uncle, and the housekeeper.

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While both were strong actors, Gatton’s performance was especially impressive.   He quickly moved from ten-year-old boy to hoary housekeeper.   Gatton’s portrayal of the old house, female, housekeeper complete with quavering voice and accent was entirely believable.   Despite the obvious problems of picturing a young man in a tuxedo as an old woman, his acting was shockingly captivating.

True to James, the story is creepy and surprisingly scandalous for the time period.   James skims homosexuality and incest in his ghost story.   However, as exciting as the story was, something was missing in the production.   As clever as the male/female staging was and as much as I enjoyed that the performance was in an actual haunted house, I am afraid that there were too many clever staging decisions and that together they occasionally made it difficult to get entirely absorbed in the show.   But, this might be the risk of staging in interesting locales and very much look forward to seeing where Two Turns chooses to perform next.

The production is playing at the Merchant’s House Museum till November 21st, Thursday thru Sunday.   There are two shows each night.   Tickets are $30 and since the space is small you should book in advance.   The show only runs about 75 minutes so it is the perfect stop before or after dinner.

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The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org). There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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