BWW Review: Two Actors Take on Ten Roles in THE TURN OF THE SCREW at the Art of Acting Studio
The Harold Clurman Laboratory Theater Company is presenting a limited engagement of Henry James' classic horror tale THE TURN OF THE SCREW in an adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher under the direction of Don K. Williams, featuring Sean Spann and Emily Sulzberger playing a total of 10 roles between them. It's a tale of a young governess just before the turn of the last century who is tasked with the care of two rather peculiar children at a country estate in England. Within a week of arriving, the governess comes to believe the children are possessed by the previous groundskeeper and governess who have since died. But is that really the case?
Sulzberger as the troubled governess never leaves the stage during the entire 100 minute performance without an intermission, while Spann takes on the other 9 roles including the two children, their mysterious father, the housekeeper and current groundskeeper by changing his physicality, often right before our eyes. To make matters even more interesting, the young girl who seems to be controlling everyone else via strange powers, is invisible and mute. And what is about her brother who winds up frightening the young and innocent governess to the point of madness?
The play opens with Spann portraying the young boy in his later years, seating aristocratically in an easy chair, informing us of certain necessary elements of his former governess's tale we are about to see. "The details: a letter, a locket, a riddle, a name. The words are her own - written in her diary in faded ink on the pages of seven days. This is the story she tells. It is a story of terror ... and horror ... and death. It made my very heart - stop."
The spooky tale is greatly enhanced by the gossamer covered set design is by Merve Caydere Dobai, lighting design by Johnny Patrick Yoder with focused spots on each character as important plot developments are revealed, and historically perfect costume design by Ovation Award-winner Michael Mullen. Somehow without letting us see exactly how it happens, as the governess sinks into deep levels of fear and confusion, her tightly bound bun at the nape of her beck unravels at a pace equal to her descent into madness. And with his usual attention to detail, director Don K. Williams leads the audience from just wondering what will happen next into allowing the strangeness to unfold at a quick pace until tempers and fears explode to the point of no return.
I will admit the story was sometimes difficult to follow, as Henry James always seems to leave lots of room for many interpretations of his tales with surprises thrown in when you least expect such a change to occur. But with the two talented actors so dedicated to presenting interesting characters whose lives go so far from normal in such a short time, just watching the characters descent away from what we would consider to be normal is mind-boggling and presently authentically without caricature. In fact, Sulzberger's natural innocence and wonder speak volumes without her uttering a word.
While speaking with Spann and Sulzberger after the performance, it was clear to me the two actors, who originally met when she was a student in his class at The Art of Acting Studio, deeply respect the innate skill each has to fully embody the quirky characters in the show. And no matter which character Spann is portraying, there is a real sense of how each one relates to the governess as she struggles to make sense of the strange occurrences taking place at the spooky Bly mansion.
The Harold Clurman Laboratory Theater Company is the Stella Adler Studio of Acting/Art of Acting Studio professional theater company. The Lab aims to produce socially relevant theater committed to the standards and ideals set out by Stella Adler, Harold Clurman, and the Group Theater. The mission of the Lab is to provide the community, through theater and discussion, with a place of exploration and experimentation of what it means to be a human being. Certainly the two actors in THE TURN OF THE SCREW embody that goal during the entire performance, introducing us to the mind, body and spirit of Henry James' tormented souls.
The 12 performances of THE TURN OF THE SCREW take place on Saturday, September 29, at 8pm, Sunday 9/30 at 8pm; Friday 10/5, Saturday 10/6, Monday 10/8, Friday 10/12, and Saturday 10/13 at 8pm; Saturday 10/20 at 8pm; Sunday 10/21 at 7pm; Saturday 10/27 at 8pm; Sunday 10/28 at 7pm; and Halloween, Wednesday 10/31 at 8pm. Tickets are $20 in advance and may be purchased online at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/999287or by phone at (323) 601-5310. All seats are Pay What You Can 30 minutes prior to curtain.
The Harold Clurman Laboratory Theatre is located at the Art of Acting Studio, 1017 N. Orange Drive in Hollywood, 90038. The adjacent parking lot is closed for renovation, with free street parking available in the area.
Photo credit: Alexander Karavay