The Morning After

Theater Review: 112 years later, ‘Turn of the Screw’ inspires

Costume designer Pat Tyler’s designs for both Psarras and Anderson were impeccable.

In Review

Turn of the Screw

3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars - 'Worth a Look'
Directed by Meredith Hagedorn
Starring Katie Anderson & George Psarras
Dragon Productions Theatre Company
November 5th - 28th
www.dragonproductions.net
Review by

Turn of the ScrewHalloween hasn’t ended yet at the Dragon, where they close their tenth anniversary with Turn of the Screw. As ghost stories go, TOTS has far more in common with Hitchcock than generic shrieker stories, which makes it worth taking in on an autumn evening.

The intentionally spare set, lack of props, and multiple roles played by single actors leave little but the quality of acting and script to carry the show. This is acting at its purest. George Psarras effortlessly jumped genders, ages and social classes as he moved from being the ten-year old Miles, to the middle-age housekeeper Mrs. Grose, to the well-situated Uncle whose actions unleashed the drama. Just as a cartoonist captures a character in a few lines, Psarras’ down cast eyes nailed the person of Miles, and his rounded shoulders animated the person of Mrs. Grose. However, Psarras’ creations were anything but cartoons, as they brought a depth of character to this psychological thriller.

Cast as the governess, Katie Anderson’s performance emphasized the ambiguity of the story as it remained unclear whether the ghosts existed only in her mind or whether they truly did inhabit Bly, the manor house where she found herself. Ms. Anderson seems to be on a run of playing madwomen recently, have just appeared in Angels in America (Part One) were she played the nutty-as-a-fruitcake Harper, whose craziness freed her to be one of the truth tellers in the story. Here, she vacillates between the responsible governess-at-the-helm and someone whose reliability is suspect at best, given her cloying insecurities and romantic fantasies about her employer. Anderson’s vacillation enriches the drama enormously because the various shades of her character leave the story open to multiple interpretations.

Given the lack of set and props, costuming took on additional importance. Costume designer Pat Tyler’s designs for both Psarras and Anderson were impeccable. I found myself riveted by Anderson’s grey skirt and jacket.

My only reservations with this production originate more with the book than in this production. Having treated myself to a re-read of the book before seeing the play, elements of the story continue to remain inexplicable, including why Mrs. Grose took Flora away from Bly and just how Miles ended up dead.

However, these nits don’t detract from the play itself – and indeed, they seem more tolerable in the play. Likewise, dialogue between the governess and her employer brought a comic timing altogether missing from the book.

Much like Dickens’ novels, Turn of the Screw first appeared as a 12 installment serial in 1898. One hundred and twelve years later it continues to inspire and take on a new life of it’s own.

Turn of the Screw
Dragon Productions Theatre Company, Palo Alto
3 out of 5 stars
Directed by Meredith Hagedorn
Starring Katie Anderson & George Psarras
www.dragonproductions.net

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Cy Ashley Webb
Cy spent the ‘80’s as a bench scientist, the tech boom doing intellectual property law, and the first decade of the millennium, aspiring to be the world’s oldest grad student at Stanford where she is interested in political martyrdom. Presently, she enjoys writing for Stark Insider and the SF Examiner, hanging out at Palo Alto Children's Theatre, and participating in various political activities. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Cy is a SFBATCC member.
  • Greg

    The success of Jeffrey Hatcher’s riveting adaptation of the classic James’ novella is wholly dependent upon the unity of purpose of its acting twosome. Both must be utterly committed to revealing the emotional reality of their characters without sacrificing the ambiguous supernatural elements suggested by the narrative.

    I am happy to report that Katie Anderson and George Psarras are equally up to the task. Aided by minimal yet smartly designed production values, together they deliver an acting performance tantamount to a harmonious duet that’s operatic in scope. Bravo!

    Mr. Psarras’ psychological intensity is apparent from the first line. His preternaturally seamless character transitions, accomplished by subtle physical manipulations and nimble vocal transformations, is most impressive!

    And Ms. Anderson’s courageous willingness to completely inhabit the governess’ frightening emotional complexity is truly inspirational. She masterfully embraces her torment without making the mistake of lapsing into a caricature of total madness. Well done!

    The debate about whether James’ ghosts are a product of tragic mental delusion or actual apparitions may never be satisfactorily resolved. But one thing is certain: the bravura acting talent currently on display at Dragon Productions is a perfect match for the compelling and beautifully written material. A genuinely gripping and memorable experience!