[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre review of MMMKAY Productions’ The Turn of The Screw, adapted By Jeffrey Hatcher from the story by Henry James, directed by Jeramiah Peay, produced by Michael Mullen starring Michael Mullen, Megan Cochrane and Shayna Gabrielle through March 26 at The Emerald Arthouse Theatre.
If you haven’t read The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, you should. I finally read it a couple of years ago and was blown away. It really is the quintessential ghost story. With a twist. Or rather, a turn. I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say, the story is wild and has been imitated ad infinitum since it was first published. So to say I was looking forward to this play, while also worried at the possibility of a rocky interpretation, is an understatement.
I had nothing to worry about though. This clever, intimate production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation is absolutely riveting. The original story is a retelling. A group of friends is gathered together on Christmas Eve and one of them reads a story written by his sister’s late governess. In her own words, we see that what begins at first to be a young woman’s adventure quickly becomes something dark and disturbing. In this production, all the characters, the storyteller, the two children, their dashing uncle who hires the governess and the housekeeper who is the only other adult living at the country house where the story is set, are all played by one actor, Michael Mullen. The governess is played on alternate nights by Megan Cochrane and Shayna Gabrielle. Ms Gabrielle performed on the night I attended and was utterly brilliant. Outwardly achingly innocent, determined to control everything, and of course, ultimately completely unable to.
Mr Mullen was truly astonishing. Changing from character to character in the blink of an eye. One moment a 10-year-old boy, the next an aging housekeeper, the next a cruel phantom. All done with such subtlety, nothing flashy or contrived. He was wonderful.
In the story, since it is written by her own hand, we see the world through the eyes of the governess and it’s easy to understand how everything could be misinterpreted. Twisted. Turned. How a wilful isolated mind could project prejudice and fears onto others to feed a need.
There is famously ambiguity in The Turn of the Screw. What is real and what is not? Can children invent their own narrative? Can we force a theory onto others? Can torment conjure ghosts or is everything that happened only within the disturbed mind of a young woman whose intentions to protect come at the expense of her sanity? If that is true then how did she continue as a governess to other families? How then did she come to write it all down?…so many unanswered questions. But then it’s clear that Henry James wanted us to fill in a lot of the plot for ourselves and to him, that was the point. We all see what we want to see. We all bring with us our own particular set of expectations and desires. We all turn our own screws…It certainly makes for excellent theatre.
The Turn of the Screw is a story that is all nuance and whispers and words. Just knowing it’s a terrible tale sets the scene in our minds. There is so much suggestion, so many things almost said. And the play is the same. But it’s really all about the performances here. And they are absolutely electric.
They need to be, to transport us to this cold country house in Essex, where death has been a recent visitor and where the pressure is truly on to ensure a return to normality…something that can’t be forced, and when it is, trouble always lies.
I loved it. One act. Fasted paced. Purposeful, but not forced. The governess is played with authenticity, understanding, and a gentle earnestness. Every one of the other characters is how she remembers them, so they can be ethereal. But Mr Mullen plays them all with absolute truth and it works perfectly.
Bravo to the director, Jeramiah Peay, too. A lot of magic is required to make this work and that’s all in the direction and the staging.
This is the last weekend, so get out your umbrellas, over the hill with you and see this wonderful production of the horrifying and timeless The Turn of The Screw.
Running through March 26.
Friday & Saturday at 8pm | Sunday at 4pm
The Emerald Arthouse Theatre
6440 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90038