Pin It
Favorite

To The Sticking Place 

by Michael Bowen


We fear what we can't see, and we don't know how to look inside ourselves. We're failures at introspection.


At least that's the case with the protagonist in The Turn of the Screw (at Interplayers through Nov. 8), making this a thinking person's ghost story that will creep you out.


In creating his theatrical adaptation for two actors, Jeffrey Hatcher has bettered Henry James' 1898 original. What's more, in its design elements, acting and direction, the Interplayers production is one of its best in recent memory.


James loves nothing more than to wrap the riddle of subordinate clauses inside the enigma of serpentine sentences, investigating every psychological cranny. (The book was better than the movie, people always say.) But Hatcher's adaptation improves on its source because James deliberately leaves his story unresolved and ambiguous. Are we to think that the ghosts that the governess claims to see actually exist? Or are they merely figments of her repressed mind? If James's insightful prose is kept so indefinite, it forfeits its truth-value; concentrating on the action all along, as Hatcher's script does in streamlining the action down to seven characters represented by just two actors, focuses the action. The novel gives up its psychological advantage. James devised the story, but Hatcher does him one better.


A sheltered young Victorian woman is hired to act as governess to two children at one of those Jane Eyre-style English country mansions. At the job interview, she gets all weak in the knees for her wealthy, aloof employer. The children are divine, but ghosts begin to prowl. The question is whether the ghostly Miss Jessel is lurking in the dining room with the candlestick -- or simply skulking in the hyperactive mind of the Governess (Holli Hornlien).


This is a compact script that nonetheless extends its own motifs: Pay attention to the riddles, the lullabies, the moments of physical touch, the mirrors and the inability (or unwillingness) of some characters to speak, read or see. Hatcher forces us to attend to details just as much as James did.


The playwright's technique of having the Man (Michael Weaver) play three characters while leaving three others entirely to our imagination -- indicts us even as it draws us further and further into the story's web: Forced to imagine things, we shape them according to our own desires. (The ghosts are adumbrated by eerie lights.) We are, in other words, doing precisely what the Governess does throughout the play with her ardent imagination. We imagine things right along with her -- and what we choose to imagine can corrupt us.


While this is a production that isn't above Screwing us with a couple of jump-out-in-the-dark moments, it's the technical accomplishments of the design crew that are most exceptional. John Hofland's set is one of Interplayers' recent finest: reeds and rowboat in the foreground, an undulating surface -- natural-seeming, but inlaid with swirls of elegant paisley, too -- the little hills and valleys merging with the low-rise staircase that leads to the unknown rooms of the mansion at Bly.


Outcroppings of rock and rustic ponds glow with an eerie light. People keep darting in and out of those cobwebby things draped in the back.


Rick Still's sound design envelops us in sinister gurgles and whispers. Repeatedly, Hatcher calls for effects such as a humanly voiced "drip, drip" merging into "real" sound effects of dripping rainfall: The alienation effect (what I am hearing is not real) quickly undercut by apparent naturalism (is that the sound of real rain?). We feel safe, untouchable -- that is, until a bony hand reaches out and touches us.


It's not AT & amp;T calling. It's your conscience, and your id, and all your childhood fears.


Weaver, in all three of his characterizations, finds the point at which gesture becomes stereotype -- then reins it in, ensuring that the roles remain individualized. His upper-crust aristocrat oozes oily hauteur, but isn't above stooping to a bit of wicked gamesmanship. His stoop-backed housekeeper totters about, hinting at Young Frankenstein or Mrs. Doubtfire -- but then pulls back to reveal real vulnerability. And so it is with his child -- at once Damien in The Omen, then Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, then something frightening but ineffable. As little Miles, Weaver spins about to invoke otherworldly spirits, like some kind of pint-sized necromancer. It's a very well-observed triple performance.


Weaver's personas must deal with Hornlien's idealistic but sheltered young woman. Hornlien plays the Governess as self-dramatizing: She calls to the ghost that she finds so alluring with the same exquisite, yearning, elegant arm movements with which she beckons her little charge Miles. Shackled by repression but now given free rein, Hornlien subtly clarifies how attracted the Governess is to the Master, to the boy, even to the ghost. But these ghosts offer no sexual healing, and she displaces her own sexual hysteria onto others. She fears that she cannot "save" the little boy or protect him from evil, precisely because she fears that she can't resist sexual temptation. In other words, she doesn't do introspection well. Moreover, in a play about seduction, the final line asks if perhaps the Governess has seduced all of us into the comforting thought that evil is somehow "out there" and not within each of us. Hornlien plays both the seduction and the hysteria with great skill.


Director Heather Graff uses all the resources of the stage masterfully. For example, the Master and the Governess clinch at one point in -- is it intimacy or intimidation? Graff finds the body language for her actors to signal both, simultaneously. For the cataclysmic finale, she has designed a frenetic dance that depicts at once the characters' closeness and insanity.





Screw your courage to the sticking place, says Lady Macbeth, goading her dubious husband in another play about imagination, sex and death. But The Turn of the Screw gives one turn more -- until the Governess' courage is broken, unthreaded, and her sense of what she is comes unhinged.


Like the Governess, we define ourselves, in part, by what we are not, what we can't do and won't tolerate. But what if we do? What if we commit forbidden acts and allow ourselves those terrible thoughts? Then who are we?


Then we've become mere shadows, specters of what we might have been. And that's the scariest ghost story of all.


We fear what we can't see, and we don't know how to look inside ourselves. We're failures at introspection.


At least that's the case with the protagonist in The Turn of the Screw (at Interplayers through Nov. 8), making this a thinking person's ghost story that will creep you out.


In creating his theatrical adaptation for two actors, Jeffrey Hatcher has bettered Henry James' 1898 original. What's more, in its design elements, acting and direction, the Interplayers production is one of its best in recent memory.


James loves nothing more than to wrap the riddle of subordinate clauses inside the enigma of serpentine sentences, investigating every psychological cranny. (The book was better than the movie, people always say.) But Hatcher's adaptation improves on its source because James deliberately leaves his story unresolved and ambiguous. Are we to think that the ghosts that the governess claims to see actually exist? Or are they merely figments of her repressed mind? If James's insightful prose is kept so indefinite, it forfeits its truth-value; concentrating on the action all along, as Hatcher's script does in streamlining the action down to seven characters represented by just two actors, focuses the action. The novel gives up its psychological advantage. James devised the story, but Hatcher does him one better.


A sheltered young Victorian woman is hired to act as governess to two children at one of those Jane Eyre-style English country mansions. At the job interview, she gets all weak in the knees for her wealthy, aloof employer. The children are divine, but ghosts begin to prowl. The question is whether the ghostly Miss Jessel is lurking in the dining room with the candlestick -- or simply skulking in the hyperactive mind of the Governess (Holli Hornlien).


This is a compact script that nonetheless extends its own motifs: Pay attention to the riddles, the lullabies, the moments of physical touch, the mirrors and the inability (or unwillingness) of some characters to speak, read or see. Hatcher forces us to attend to details just as much as James did.


The playwright's technique of having the Man (Michael Weaver) play three characters while leaving three others entirely to our imagination -- indicts us even as it draws us further and further into the story's web: Forced to imagine things, we shape them according to our own desires. (The ghosts are adumbrated by eerie lights.) We are, in other words, doing precisely what the Governess does throughout the play with her ardent imagination. We imagine things right along with her -- and what we choose to imagine can corrupt us.


While this is a production that isn't above Screwing us with a couple of jump-out-in-the-dark moments, it's the technical accomplishments of the design crew that are most exceptional. John Hofland's set is one of Interplayers' recent finest: reeds and rowboat in the foreground, an undulating surface -- natural-seeming, but inlaid with swirls of elegant paisley, too -- the little hills and valleys merging with the low-rise staircase that leads to the unknown rooms of the mansion at Bly.


Outcroppings of rock and rustic ponds glow with an eerie light. People keep darting in and out of those cobwebby things draped in the back.


Rick Still's sound design envelops us in sinister gurgles and whispers. Repeatedly, Hatcher calls for effects such as a humanly voiced "drip, drip" merging into "real" sound effects of dripping rainfall: The alienation effect (what I am hearing is not real) quickly undercut by apparent naturalism (is that the sound of real rain?). We feel safe, untouchable -- that is, until a bony hand reaches out and touches us.


It's not AT & amp;T calling. It's your conscience, and your id, and all your childhood fears.


Weaver, in all three of his characterizations, finds the point at which gesture becomes stereotype -- then reins it in, ensuring that the roles remain individualized. His upper-crust aristocrat oozes oily hauteur, but isn't above stooping to a bit of wicked gamesmanship. His stoop-backed housekeeper totters about, hinting at Young Frankenstein or Mrs. Doubtfire -- but then pulls back to reveal real vulnerability. And so it is with his child -- at once Damien in The Omen, then Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, then something frightening but ineffable. As little Miles, Weaver spins about to invoke otherworldly spirits, like some kind of pint-sized necromancer. It's a very well-observed triple performance.


Weaver's personas must deal with Hornlien's idealistic but sheltered young woman. Hornlien plays the Governess as self-dramatizing: She calls to the ghost that she finds so alluring with the same exquisite, yearning, elegant arm movements with which she beckons her little charge Miles. Shackled by repression but now given free rein, Hornlien subtly clarifies how attracted the Governess is to the Master, to the boy, even to the ghost. But these ghosts offer no sexual healing, and she displaces her own sexual hysteria onto others. She fears that she cannot "save" the little boy or protect him from evil, precisely because she fears that she can't resist sexual temptation. In other words, she doesn't do introspection well. Moreover, in a play about seduction, the final line asks if perhaps the Governess has seduced all of us into the comforting thought that evil is somehow "out there" and not within each of us. Hornlien plays both the seduction and the hysteria with great skill.


Director Heather Graff uses all the resources of the stage masterfully. For example, the Master and the Governess clinch at one point in -- is it intimacy or intimidation? Graff finds the body language for her actors to signal both, simultaneously. For the cataclysmic finale, she has designed a frenetic dance that depicts at once the characters' closeness and insanity.





Screw your courage to the sticking place, says Lady Macbeth, goading her dubious husband in another play about imagination, sex and death. But The Turn of the Screw gives one turn more -- until the Governess' courage is broken, unthreaded, and her sense of what she is comes unhinged.


Like the Governess, we define ourselves, in part, by what we are not, what we can't do and won't tolerate. But what if we do? What if we commit forbidden acts and allow ourselves those terrible thoughts? Then who are we?


Then we've become mere shadows, specters of what we might have been. And that's the scariest ghost story of all.





Publication date: 10/23/03

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Game Changer
  • Game Changer

    Since Condon became mayor, Jan Quintrall has been responsible for some of the biggest changes in the city of Spokane — and some of its biggest controversies
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • In Contempt
  • In Contempt

    A Spokane judge rules that the mental health system has willfully failed to follow evaluation deadlines
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • Never Again
  • Never Again

    Washington state lawmakers push reforms after last July's murder-suicide; plus, Spokane's police ombudsman is leaving
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
A T. Rex Named Sue

A T. Rex Named Sue @ Mobius Science Center

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 4

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Michael Bowen

Most Commented On

  • Let Us Breathe

    Spokane joins national protests over the failure to indict white officers for killing black civilians
    • Dec 10, 2014
  • Screw Big Cities

    A mid-sized manifesto
    • Dec 3, 2014
  • More »

© 2014 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation