As The Screw Turns: Simple Machine’s “Turn of the Screw”

Photo Credit: Kyler Taustin Photography

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Presented by Simple Machine
By Jeffrey Hatcher; Adapted from the novella by Henry James

November 8-23, 2013
The Taylor House Bed and Breakfast
50 Burroughs St. Boston MA 02130

The Gibson House Museum
137 Beacon St. Boston MA
02116
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Good News! The run has been extended.
Saturday, November 23 at 4:30 PM, The Taylor House Bed & Breakfast
Sunday, November 24 at 7:30 PM, The Gibson House Museum

Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Boston) Alright, so, here’s my deal: I wouldn’t say that Henry James is my nemesis mostly because I’m not ready to commit to him that deeply (a nemesis/hero relationship is, after all, a long, complex, and fraught one with ups, downs, and side-plots).  But I will say this: Henry James is at least on the super team of literary villains who have plagued my academic career.

Oh god do I hate Henry James!  I hate Henry James so much that it sometimes keeps me up at night.  Yes, I have actually lost sleep because I was so angry at having to read yet ANOTHER chapter of What Maisie Knew when I knew my time would be much better spend doing practically anything.  Getting a root canal seemed like a good option[1].

I went to this show hoping that maybe seeing an adaptation of one of James’ more palatable stories would make me like it more.  Maybe it would instill some much-needed modernist culture into my early modern brain.  Maybe I would even come out with a new-found adoration of the Victorian novel!

Instead, I came out absolutely astounded at the raw talent of Stephen Libby.  In this two-man adaptation of James’ ghost story, Libby portrays everyone from the seemingly innocuous unnamed narrator, to creepy (and possibly possessed) ten-year-old Miles.  Libby’s masterful vocal work and physical characterizations make crystal clear his persona even as he shifts from one to the next before your eyes within the same scene.

His partner, Anna Waldron, is nothing to sniff at either.  Her talented rendition of James’ prose make even the unpalatable pleasant.

One of the masterful inventions of this production is its treatment of Little Flora, a character who frequently appears but is only manifest in her absence.  Libby and Waldron’s precise handling of the absent/present child bring her into the room – her corporeal presence is made real by their reactions to her.

I would be lax if I didn’t mention the performance venues of this site-specific production.  Performed in the historic Taylor House Bed and Breakfast and The Gibson House Museum (it swaps venues depending on performance night), the period settings breathe life into the show.  Not only is it really neat to sit in that drawing room and be witness to this tale, but it almost feels as though ghosts from the houses past have returned to haunt them (and not just Mrs. Jessel and Peter Quint).  After the show, Libby and Waldron admitted “it’s almost like we’re doing two separate shows” simply because the venues are so very different.

I saw the Taylor House version, but I am sorely tempted to re-attend just to experience the Gibson House as well.

Walking out of the production, I was struck with the feeling of having just eaten a delicious and satisfying meal: I had gotten the most unexpected delight out of this production.  That being said, the meal lacked dessert.  But it wasn’t the meal’s fault, it was the chef’s.

I would say that this production is good in spite of Henry James rather than because of anything he lent to it.

I’ll get you next time, James.  Next time.

[1] Note: I have never actually gotten a root canal; but even the horror stories I’ve heard can’t possibly measure up to the agony of The Wings of the Dove.

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