Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
I am most familiar with this story from the original novella and Benjamin Britten's opera. There have also been adaptations for the stage, film, and television.
I find that Jeffrey Hatcher's version has several built-in obstacles to success, and those, plus one of the actors not being ideally suited to her role, sabotage this production. With gothic and Victorian era pieces there is a very thin line between drama and comedy. Think The Mystery of Irma Vep or the recently seen Murder for Two which intentionally cross over to comedy. Both feature actors playing multiple roles. This play, with one of the two actors playing five roles (one female, one juvenile, and three males), inadvertently creates a danger that the mysterious tone, such an integral part of James' original, will not hold. The horror of the tale, intertwined with the unusual aura of the entire household, just doesn't permeate this telling and the audience is deprived of the full emotional effects of the story.
Deanna Wright is The Woman, the Governess in the James version. Ms. Wright appeared in Oedipus Rex last fall as a second-year Asolo Conservatory Student. She and all of her classmates got the declamatory speaking style required for Greek tragedy right. Unfortunately, she brings it to this part as well, and I found that all the emotions the character is feeling get lost. This character needs to be unsure of herself at first, horrified later as she begins to uncover the mysteries of the manor, and then strong as she pulls Miles away from the influences of the past. None of that comes through. Also, Ms. Wright had a bad opening night, stumbling over lines multiple times. It is hard for me to judge if the performance starts with director Chris Clavelli or the actress, but either way it seriously undermines the effectiveness of this venture. Brian Owen as The Man fares far better. He is excellent as Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, quite good as Miles, especially in the later scenes, and good as the master of the house, the narrator, and silently as Peter Quint. He provides the only non-speaking sounds heard during the evening and is spooky doing those.
The finest element on stage is the scenic design by Steven Kemp, which features a staircase that mysteriously goes anywhere in particular. David Covach's costumes are somewhat generic rather than illuminating, Michael Pasquini's lighting is effective, and wig design by Michelle Hart is up to her usual high standards.
Dog Days Theatre's The Turn of the Screw, through August 26, 2018, at the Cook Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. Box Office 941-351-8000. For more information visit asolorep.org/dogdays.