Any good storyteller knows that the most frightening horror is the one that's only hinted at. Case in point, Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Henry James' creepy novella "The Turn of the Screw," which is currently being produced by Torch Theater. This masterful piece demonstrates once again that what you don't see is always scarier than what you do.
"The Turn of the Screw" is a classic gothic ghost story. A governess has been engaged to care for two recently orphaned young children. At first she's equally charmed by her pupils, Miles and Flora, and by the isolated country manse where they reside. However, when she discovers that the previous governess and her sinister lover recently died under mysterious circumstances, she becomes convinced the house is haunted by their ghosts. Is she truly seeing demonic apparitions that seek to possess the children or are her visions merely a symptom of her own incipient madness? That question lies at the heart of the story.
Hatcher's adaptation is stripped down to the essentials. Director David Mann demonstrates the potency of that simplicity.
Two actors take on all the roles, with Lindsay Marcy as the governess and Craig Johnson playing a variety of characters, including the mysterious employer, the housekeeper and the young Miles. Marcy creates a riveting stage presence as her character's giddy romanticism is gradually transformed into tortured obsession over the course of the play. Her nuanced and ably balanced performance keeps the audience guessing to the end.
Johnson is equally masterful in his various roles, adding a complex mixture of humor, sardonic wit and pathos to the proceedings. Indeed, his chameleon-like ability to conjure one character after another is a key factor in the success of the production. Together Marcy and Johnson create a menacing sense of foreboding that develops over the course of 90 minutes to a fever pitch of intensity.
Joel Sass' simple set -- a chair, a window frame, a staircase that winds to nowhere -- and Paul Epton's chiaroscuro lighting design beautifully evoke the gothic underpinnings of this haunting tale, conjuring with economy the dark hallways, creaking staircases and shadowy corners of the sinister house.
This bravura "Turn of the Screw" crafts an atmosphere in which unseen and unspeakable horrors lurk around every corner. It's a subtle and powerful production whose fear factor will linger long after the lights come up.
Lisa Brock writes regularly about theater.