No other entry in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival achieves a degree of darkness — literal or figurative — as deep as THE TURN OF THE SCREW. (Eat your heart out, Hello Blackout!) Working from Jeffrey Hatcher’s drum-tight stage adaptation of Henry James’s psychologically tinged ghost story, director Candace Cihocki and lighting designer Porsche McGovern create a world of dusk and shadow, which relentlessly builds in suspense over the course of 70 minutes. Although I’ve read the source novella more than once, I still found myself on the edge of my seat for most of the performance — right up to the heart-stopping conclusion. As the lights grew ever dimmer and silhouettes danced on the walls of the Proscenium at the Drake, I got chills.
Cihocki’s production shows what magic theater can achieve with just the bare necessities: an almost bare stage, a fascinating story, and two superb actors (Corinna Burns and Bob Stineman). With her highly expressive face and honeyed voice, Burns makes an ideal Governess. For much of the performance, we’re never quite sure whether she’s succumbing to madness or engineering it — and that’s as it should be. Stineman strongly differentiates the half-dozen characters he plays; he’s particularly effective as the enigmatic Miles. Hatcher’s script makes explicit what the novella merely implies, but the stage and the page are different animals. He captures James’s poetic style without slipping into archness.
This production serves as my introduction to Leila and Pantea Productions, an up-and-coming company with a strong vision and a keen sense of the theatrical. I hope to see more work from them in the future. In the meantime, local theaters should be fighting over who gets to mount a return engagement of this fascinating, arresting production.
[The Proscenium at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street, Philadelphia]; September 20-24, 2017; http://fringearts.com/event/the-turn-of-the-screw-3/