BWW Review: Book-It's THE TURN OF THE SCREW Creeped Me Out, But Not in the Way They Hoped
Henry James' novella "The Turn of the Screw" is considered by some to be a classic of horror literature. A suspenseful story of ghosts and insanity that leaves each reader with a different viewpoint on what just happened. To be perfectly candid, I'd never read it and so my first exposure to it was last night's Book-It adaptation and production. And honestly, the way it was presented, I found it as suspenseful as a fly in a glass of milk, eliciting vaguely interesting questions of "will she drown" or "will she fly away", but most of all "do I really care?" All I know for certain is that I don't want to drink it anymore.
For those as unfamiliar as I, we focus on a Governess (Shannon Lee Clair) who is taken on to care for two children, Miles and Flora (Nabilah S. Ahmed and Rheanna Atendido). She is hired in London by the children's Uncle (Amy Driesler), who has taken them in after the death of their parents. He wants nothing to do with them so has shipped them off to an isolated country estate. There the Governess meets the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Bridget Connors) who explains that the previous Governess had died. The new Governess keeps seeing ghostly apparitions which she believes to be the ghosts of the previous Governess as well as another employee named Peter Quint who also died around the same time.
What they want us to come away with is the question of whether the ghosts are real or whether the Governess was going insane and only imagining them. But per the adaptation by Rachel Atkins, the question I came out with is, why does the Governess want to have sex with these children? Repeatedly throughout the story, she remarks about how attractive the children are and how drawn to them she is. For me, this made her more dangerous than any ghost and I kept wondering why everyone was OK with this. At the beginning she explains that she had never told this story before as it was so horrifying. Yeah, not because of the ghosts or murders but because a governess shouldn't look at her charges and think, "Damn, I gotta get me some of that!" Now you may think I missed the mark on this one, except my theater companion came away with the same icky feelings.
Perhaps we focused on that aspect of the story because the suspense of the ghost story was completely absent. The pace of the piece, as directed by Carol Roscoe, is so slow and plodding that I found it difficult to care about anything happening. It doesn't help that the set from Pete Rush is a series of walls filled with windows that repeatedly and very slowly and loudly, shambled into place, and the actors would wait for this to happen before they spoke.
The performances don't aid in the suspense of the piece either. Ahmed and Atendido are fine as the children, although I never quite got a handle on what they were trying to play, precocious or insane. But Clair and Driesler have the lion's share of the dialog and act as the narrators of the piece and their delivery and cadence was so straightforward and one note, that any and all mystery or suspense was squashed. It felt like a bad PBS drama where the English actors were trying to be scary but also remaining ever so proper, posh and British.
After it was all said and done, I know what I thought of the main question, ghosts or insanity, but that paled in comparison to the drawn-out nature of the piece and the complete inappropriate nature of the relationships. And the main question I came out with was, is this the way James wrote it? And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Book-It Repertory Theatre's production of "The Turn of the Screw" a "not scared but grossed out" NAH. Personally, I prefer my ghost stories to thrill and terrify without the child molestation. But that's just me.
"The Turn of the Screw" from Book-It Repertory Theatre performs at the Center Theatre through March 8th. For tickets or information contact the Book-It box office at 206-216-0833 or visit them online at www.book-it.org.