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Theater review: Actor's Scene Unseen's The Turn of the Screw



All too briefly, Actor's Scene Unseen brought their fine production of The Turn of the Screw back to Spirit Square last week in the entertaining Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation of Henry James's novella. In sponsoring the revival, the Child Abuse Awareness & Prevention Coalition proved you can hijack the post-show discussion and interpretation of a literary classic. But the meaning of the story isn't so easily hijacked -- or kidnapped -- even if April is Child Abuse Awareness Month.

Meg Wood, portraying the young governess, and Michael Harris, portraying everyone else, beautifully kept the central ghostly and psychological ambiguities levitated and intact. Wood was especially effective in finding the bridge between the governess's fears and her catastrophic aggression. While there were scant reasons for doubting her veracity as she reported her travails at a lonely rural estate, there were those deftly spaced spasms of overreaction in Woods's behavior that adroitly brought the governess's stability and reliability into question. Yet those spasms may have been justified by actual confrontations with the supernatural. Seems like a fair amount of ghostly activity has been reported over the past couple of centuries in the English countryside.

And of course, all the fun that Harris was having as Mrs. Grose, the crotchety housekeeper, as Miles, the troubled schoolboy, and as his starchy, stone-faced uncle -- just slightly overdone, all of them, to comic effect -- put the sparse hysterics of the governess into bolder relief. Send Harris out of sight for a few seconds, and he was even doing spooky birdcalls.

Elizabeth Peterson-Vita directed the show with a sure sense of Hatcher's feel for the story, never allowing all of Harris' shifting roles to be too slick or too overdone. As a result, Harris was able to infuse authentic terror into Miles's final moments -- with a slightly terrifying impact. James Vita's set design was as conceptual as Hatcher's adaptation. Both his lighting and his shrewdly deployed projection design deepened the mystery at exactly those moments when the artificiality of the presentation needed the firm jolt of a realistic counterweight.

No doubt about it, this was the best Unseen production I have seen.

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