Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 7, 2011

Turn of the Screw

Chester Theater, Chester, MA
through August 14, 2011
by Robbin M. Joyce

There is nothing as fearsome as what the imagination can conjure. Jeffrey Hatcher has taken a story, plucked from the imagination of Henry James, and created an 80 minute psychological thriller that, under the direction of Daniel Elihu Kramer, will seduce even the most skeptical of audience members.

The stage is bare, except for a single Victorian chair lit from below with eerie, gas-style footlights. It is framed by floor-to-ceiling shutters in such a state of disrepair as to simultaneously create a haunted feel and provide a frustrating partial glimpse of the world outside. A low bass note punctuates the tale with an other-worldly resonance.

The story begins with the Narrator, Justin Campbell, relating a story told to him by his sister's Governess. As the story unfolds Campbell deftly becomes multiple characters: the Master, the Housekeeper, the Nephew and even provides vocal sound effects. Campbell moves through his characters with ease, creating a seductive employer that's as believable as his precocious little boy is.

Alison McLemore, as the Governess, takes the audience on her descent into madness. From her appearance as the naïve prospective employee to the self-proclaimed heroine who will save Miles' soul at any expense, McLemore carries her role with an intensity that expertly drives the tension of the story. That tension makes this play worth seeing.

Does the Governess really see the ghosts of her predecessor and the Valet? Are the ghosts trying to possess the children? Is she? The audience is left as frustrated by these unanswered questions as a sexually-repressed, Victorian-age woman would be. But that is the beauty of this play; it's left to the viewer's imagination to decide just how horrific and thrilling it really is.