BWW Review: A GOTHIC, SPOOKY, AND MIND-BENDING SEASON OPENER WITH “THE TURN OF THE SCREW” at freeFall Theatre
Gothic, Spooky, and down right Mind-Bending are just three words used to describe the deeply affecting, and resonating performance during freeFall Theatre's enigmatic opening to their 19/20 Season "Ghostlight." Upon entering the theatre the audience is immediately incapsulated in a world of Gothic Noir. Like something bursting out of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and blended well with real water, the stage was set and the mood was placed for an eerie and beautiful trip. Over the next enthralling 75 minutes two actors of supreme grandiose proportions took the audience on an unforgettable trip across the pond to Essex, and the opening night audience in mere sell out lingered on every word. Even a chill in the air lent itself to the spooky good time set before us. A true tour-de-force helmed exceptionally well by Director Timothy Saunders, two characters simply named "Man" and "Woman" took our breath away and left a chill down our spine that still resonates with me days later.
The Turn of the Screw by Jeffery Hatcher from the story by Henry James is proclaimed as the characters explain, "...a ghost story for Children." The music used to set the scene reminded me of an Ancient Ghost Story and was so haunting it drove the audience head first into the Gothic Atmosphere. Enter two characters "Man" and "Woman" one a wealthy Bachelor whom despises Children, and the other a Governess whom lost her parents tragically when she was a young girl. Two children, two turns of the screw, 7 days, 7 lessons, and a gift or two, but what the Governess will learn will change her course, and her future as she knows it. A letter, a locket, a riddle, a name, words in a diary,a lesson, and eventually terror, horror, and death all things given in 7 days, and all things just as life changing and altering as the next. One haunting line that still sticks with me even as I'm writing this, "...there is nothing like a child in pain."
"A Man" played so daring, and stirring by freeFall Artistic Director Eric Brandon Davis is gripping and you cannot take your eyes off him. Reminiscent of Heath Ledger's stirring turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight Eric's performance shakes you to the core. The ability he has to be able to stand on stage and play four distinctly different personalities is entrancing and one of the strongest performances to date that I have seen portrayed by a single performer. His chilling delivery of every line makes your heart race one minute, and your skin crawl the next. It sends you on a rollercoaster of emotion with every character. Even in silence his body language and facial expressions are so vivid that you hate to even blink for the fear of missing one solitary second. In a strongly delivered accent fitting for the era and place, and chilling dialogue such as "You will be lonely, do you fear lonliness..." makes even the strongest person question their place.
"A Woman" played so mysteriously, so captivating by Emilee Dupre is so subtle, staunch, and moving in every line, every movement, every delivery from the moment she stepped onto the stage. Hired by the wealthy bachelor to be the Governess to the children Miles and Flora, Emilee's character has a disposition that something in her past tragically happened that up to this point has altered her life, but its the lessons that she will learn while caring for the children that will once again alter her course. Never seeing the Bachelor once she is handed care of the children the vast mansion and looming gothic tower becomes the backdrop for a life not lived before. With chilling lines such as, "Silence is a virtue Flora, it makes a clever girl wise.." the Governess tries to instill life lessons on children often misunderstood. Emilee's perfomance is something of brilliance and could very well be revered as the single strongest performance by a Female lead I have seen in years. You hang on every word, and feel for her every emotion, you sense something is internally disconnected with her and her past, and that makes her plight as interesting, as it make its heartbreaking and endearing. A tour-de-force and reminiscent of Meryl Streep in Doubt and as Haunting as Nicole Kidman in The Others Emilee's performance has stuck with me, and unable to be shook from memory days after this haunting portrayal.
A haunting song used as a memory piece and the idea that all isnt exactly as it seems makes this piece haunting and stirring, and chilling in all the right places. So it has been said, "... a Ghost Story for Children," in a world where the children were perfectly imperfect and an Uncle who dispises their exsistence you wonder, were they ever really there at all? Were they a figment of imagination, or maybe a condition one cannot escape? Flora cannot speak, Miles is dislexic, and a man named Peter Quintz. Through riddles and stories of those who just "went away" makes one question humanity in itself and the realization of the mind, and what was truly there and what was not. Riddle... "What has no soul, no body..." give-up? Another riddle... "What comes between a man and woman, but allows everything?" Yet another riddle... "What hangs on a man all his life, but never touches him...." Questions answered and not answered, but lessons learned you will never forget.
Technically this show is a spectacle so grounded and honest that its beautifully done. From the moment you step into the space you forget about the outside world for the time being, and are completely immersed in the story and the world created. Tom Hansen's Set Design is beautifully captivating and takes the audience to a time of Gothic Noir and not only feels spooky, but looks spooky. Like an abandoned mansion, in which even the grounds have folded in on itself, this archaeic and brilliantly rendered relic of land in which terrible things have happened completely incapsulated a time period in which the period costumes blended seamlessly to the world set forth before us. Victorian Gothic in all the right manner gives a Crimson Peak sort of flow perfect for a ghostly good time. Dalton Hamilton's lighting design lent itself perfectly to the world in which the story was told. There is a moment in which a lighting effect creates a rain storm on stage and I'm still enthralled by the beauty it created in the moment that was so honest and I cant shake it from my mind.
Beautifully haunting, and vastly different than anything out there right now makes this season opener a force to be reckoned with. From the technical aspects, to the acting that blew my mind, The Turn of the Screw goes places physically, mentally, emotionally, unlike anything I have seen in some time. This is not the show to sleep on, it will shake you to the core, and make you question morality and exsistence in all the right ways. This will definitely be on the list of top performances this far... The Turn of the Screw a ghost story for children, a story of love, hope, death, and everything in between will leave you dispossessed and wanting more. In words of the man, "Have I seduced you yet...has she seduced you yet?" The company should be incredibly proud for their work...in this "Decade of Daring" I implore you do not miss The Turn of the Screw for the company deserved the immediate standing ovation they received opening night, and every subsequent one after that, and I cannot wait to see what comes next in what is sure to be a very magical, and entrancing season. Onstage through October 27, 2019, tickets can be purchased by visiting www.freefalltheatre.com or by calling the box office at 727-498-5205.
Photo Credit: Dalton Hamilton