Lindsay Marcy and Craig Johnson in The Turn of the Screw.
Photo courtesy Torch Theater
Since it was published in 1898, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw has been a favorite among fans of ghost stories, spooking generations of readers and spreading its influence far and wide. Plenty of modern stories -- think of The Others, for example -- take cues from James's tale of an isolated home, a small cast of characters, and plenty of things that go bump in the night.
Jeff Hatcher's adaptation, now being produced by Torch Theater, takes the story and refines it even further. The play has a handful of characters, but only two actors portray them. Lindsay Marcy plays the governess sent to Bly to take care of two children amid mysterious circumstances, while Craig Johnson plays the rest of the characters, including the children, the housekeeper, and the narrator.
The story is fairly simple. A governess is hired by the children's uncle to go and care for them in the isolated home. Over the course of a week, mysterious things begin to happen, including a pair of apparitions who seem to have an unnatural affinity for the youngsters. Is the haunting really happening, or is our main character going mad?
Actually, this version points pretty clearly to the first option, but it doesn't lessen the tension in David Mann's spare production. Marcy plays her character's descent very well, slipping further and further away from the calm, collected, and eager character we see at the beginning into one whom, while driven nearly mad with fright, is willing to stay on task to get to the bottom of what has brought this madness onto the household.
Johnson gets to have quite a bit more fun with his roles, as he moves from the haunted narrator (the puzzle-box construction tells this as a story within a story within a story) to the distracted uncle to, finally, the housekeeper and young boy.
The real challenge of telling a ghost story onstage is creating the right atmosphere. After all, you can hear the street noises from Lyndale and Franklin through the walls, and the black curtain doesn't stop all of the light from coming in on a bright sunny afternoon. The effective, moody staging overcomes this, starting with Joel Sass's minimal set, which uses a few well-chosen set pieces: a chair, a spiral staircase, a bent and bare tree bring Bly to life. Paul Epton's lighting is also spare, often leaving only small patches of light, with the rest of the scene left to the imagination. Finally, Katharine Horowitz crafts an elegant soundscape that implies every creak, bump, and rustling tree at the isolated home.
The Turn of the Screw brings the scares, and lets a pair of talented actors chill the audience to the bone. What else can you ask for in the weeks leading to Halloween?
IF YOU GO:
The Turn of the Screw
Minneapolis Theater Garage
711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
Through Oct. 27
For information, call 952-929-9097 or visit online