‘The Turn of the Screw’

“He was looking for someone else, you say—someone who was not you?”
“He was looking for little Miles.” A portentous clearness now possessed me. “That’s whom he was looking for.”
“But how do you know?”
“I know, I know, I know!” My exaltation grew. “And you know, my dear!”
“I don’t do it!” I sobbed in despair; “I don’t save or shield them! It’s far worse than I dreamed—they’re lost!”

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

Published in 1898, James’ haunting novella has been adapted by Benjamin Britten as an opera, interpreted as a ballet at least twice, and has been staged as both a musical and as a successful Broadway drama, The Innocents. There was a film version made of The Innocents and in 1972 another attempt to bring James’ gothic ghost story to the screen in The Nightcomers starring Marlon Brando.

Add to these close to a dozen international films, an audio book by Emma Thompson and even an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Sub Rosa, which gave James’ tale of “things that go bump in the night” a definite sci-fi slant and you can begin to appreciate why The Turn of the Screw is considered one of the most important horror novels ever written.

It has influenced writers from William Peter Blatty to Stephen King and inspired the horror sub-genre of “toddler terror” finding expression in films that include The Other (1972), Children of the Corn and many more.

It has also been the source of countless literary debates from your Aunt Marion’s book club to the pages of The New Yorker.

James penned other “ghost stories,” The Jolly Corner and Owen Wingrave but none equal the success of Turn of the Screw.

This success can be attributed in part to the ambiguous nature of the novella, which James himself refused ever to discuss the specifics of, and which some critics have called a ghost story without ghosts.

In the work, James defines the Gothic Horror novel, a masterpiece of mood, and suspenseful uncertainty, but it is never made clear what all that mood and suspense is about. And that is perhaps the genius of James’ work and explanation of its appeal.

For his readers, James structured a labyrinth wherein lurks some anonymous evil to be dreaded. For others, it seems, James presents a challenge to expose the nature of that evil.

Either way, James’ story of strange happenings at Bly, the eerie manor at the heart of his tale, is a literary Rorschach, wherein the reader is left to decide if the evil is supernatural or psychological.

Turn of the Screw as produced by Haldane Morris and directed by Blake Silver, in a non-traditional venue off Westwood Boulevard, is an attempt to create an environment which lends itself to the mysterious and the vague.

The performance is presented in what appears to be a construction site behind the Sirens/Titans Fitness on Westwood.

The audience needs to be guided into a dark arena of sand like fabric and dim candle light, and there, two actors, Josh Zuckerman and Katija Pevec, relate James’ tale in Story Theatre fashion with Zuckerman taking on the lion’s share of the roles.

Original and disturbing are the two adjectives most often applied to James’ work, and though Morris and Silver have gone out of their way to emphasize the “eerie” and “unconventional” aspects in their press material, nothing in the presentation struck me as either.

It is a difficult task to attempt what James accomplished in his novella within the confines of a single performance.

James trips up his reader by scattering an abundance of loose ends throughout his tale and by compounding the dialogue of the characters which can be taken in more than one way.

The accumulative effect is unnerving in James’ story. Less so here.

However the work is sincere and the audience, which appeared to be mostly friends of the artists, seemed to enjoy it.

If unfamiliar with James’ work I don’t really know if this production would serve as a good introduction or not, but it might be an interesting one.

This is a very limited run, but if you do attend, to enhance your likelihood of enjoying the evening, I strongly suggest you take a jacket, a seat pillow, and somewhat lower expectations.

(NOTE: Featured Photo By Blake Silver)

* * *

Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw
Adapted for the stage by: Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Blake Silver
Produced by Haldane Morris
Starring Josh Zuckerman and Katija Pevec

When: This weekend:
Friday, May 6 and Saturday, May 7 – 8:30 curtain

Place: Behind Sirens/Titans Fitness
2311 Westwood Blvd.*
Los Angeles CA 90046
*Note: Entrance is on the side of the building on Tennessee Ave, not Westwood Blvd

For tickets and additional information:
(323) 782-1849 or www.eventbrite.com

Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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