Encore Michigan

Outvisible’s ‘Turn of The Screw’ haunts and taunts

Review October 24, 2018 David Kiley

ALLEN PARK, Mich.–Henry James’ Turn of The Screw has been debated, adapted and interpreted for more than a century. I suppose that makes it a classic.

The reason for all the debate in this Gothic-style ghostly drama is that James left a lot of room for readers, and watchers (in the case of stage adaptations) to interpret what happened, who really is doing what, etc. The lack of clarity will appeal to some, and confound others.

This very fine production by Outvisible Theatre is no exception. The performances by the actors are excellent. The story and script can be unsatisfying to some. It depends on one’s sensibilities when it comes to storytelling. I, for one, like more linear clarity on a story. Others celebrate vagueness and asking, “what really happened here?”

A young Governess (Claire Jolliffe) in the performance I saw, but some performances the character is played by Rachel Dalton) is hired by a man (Bailey Boudreau) who has become responsible for his young nephew and niece after the deaths of their parents. He lives in London, but also has a country house, called “Bly.” He is uninterested in raising the children, and wants the Governess and a resident housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, to take care of it all.

There is a boy, Miles, who attends a boarding school, while his sister, Flora, is living at the summer country house. Miles returns from school for the summer after being expelled. As the Governess assumes her duties, she begins to see the figures of a man and woman whom she does not recognize. These figures come and go without being seen by anyone else. We come to find out that her predecessor and another household staffer, Quint, had a sexual affair, and they are both now dead. The Governess thinks that Flora and Miles are seeing the ghosts but aren’t saying.

The story foments to a pique when the Governess finds Flora at the water’s edge of the lake talking, she thinks, to the ghosts. Flora denies this and abandons her Governess. The Governess cleaves to Miles, forces him to confess about his expulsion, and shields him, she thinks, from the apparition of Quint, the dead lover of the former Governess. Miles then dies in her arms.

That is not a spoiler. This is a classic story more than a century old. It would be like reviewing Frankenstein and tipping off a reader that the monster is killed in the end by the mob. One of the lingering questions scholars have debated since the novella was written is: Was all of the strangeness and sinister suspicions in the story just in the mind of The Governess? Is The Governess a really pure non-musical Maria from The Sound of Music who is driven to a dark place by Bly House? Or did she, in fact, arrive after doing six months in an asylum with no references?

What is worthwhile here is the debatable and discussable ‘turn of the screw” of this story as played by two first-rate actors.

Ms. Joliffe is ideally cast as The Governess. She is spot-on as the Governess full of optimism for the new job when she arrives. Sexually repressed, it seems, her springs gradually become unwound as she tries to negotiate the reality, or lack thereof, of the ghosts.

Mr. Boudreau is adept at changing the roles he must play, from the “Man” who hires the Governess to care for the kids (who may as well be ghosts to him)…hmmm?, as well as Miles, the housekeeper, etc. Boudreau stays in the same cutaway coat that he first appears in at the start of the play throughout the production. This puts a lot of pressure on him to make the characters pop with clarity, which he does with crafty changes of voice. But I also would like to see him perhaps do it just in a vest,  and do some small changes, like wearing a shawl to play the housekeeper and maybe a period cap for Miles. Director Adriane Galea probably considered it. In the end, an actor as strong as Boudreau is able to make it work.

Happy Halloween. Turn of The Screw does not inspire character masks to be sold at Target, but it’s a superbly performed trip back to rural England in 1898 for a good ghost story.

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Week of 8/8/2022

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