THE TURN OF THE SCREW, Pyewacket, at Heartland Studio Theater. Though Jeffrey Hatcher has written a number of original scripts and screenplays, literary adaptations are clearly his specialty. He's best known around Chicago for Smash, a whip-smart adaptation of one of George Bernard Shaw's early novels that received its local premiere at Bailiwick in late 1997. Adding his own gift for comic dialogue to Shaw's biting wit, Hatcher managed to transform Shaw's murky political rhetoric in An Unsocial Socialist into an entertaining, edifying piece of theater.
Adapting a cryptic, complex novel like The Turn of the Screw presents an entirely different set of challenges, however: it's not a work that lends itself to dramatic interpretation. And unfortunately Hatcher's main gimmick--using only two actors, a man and a woman--does a grave disservice to Henry James's sprawling ghost story. In addition, Hatcher bypasses many of the novel's central issues, including the narrator's reliability, in favor of a more literal approach.
Linda LeVeque's haphazard staging emphasizes the worst aspects of Hatcher's script, including his convoluted use of offstage action and B-movie approach to horror. Kate Harris is excellent as the governess, while Michael Nowak gives all his roles--as the master of the house, the Irish housekeeper, and the conniving schoolboy--equal authority. Too bad their stellar performances are wasted on Hatcher's unimaginative, Cliffs Notes-like distillation of James's classic text. --Nick Green