The Turn of the Screw | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Turn of the Screw

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The Turn of the Screw, City Lit Theater Company and Genesius Theatre Company. Jeffrey Hatcher's curious retelling of Henry James's ghost story epitomizes the problem with adapting complex works of literature to the stage: great stories and novels don't always make for great, even good theater. Were Hatcher to go back and heighten the camp value or bring the sexual subtext to the forefront, The Turn of the Screw might make an excellent farce a la Charles Ludlam's The Mystery of Irma Vep. Certainly it has all the requisite components: mistaken identities, slamming doors, uncanny entrances and exits.

Even with the clever conceit of using two actors to play all the characters, Hatcher's script is dull and hollow: it substitutes ham-fisted aphorisms for true dialogue and traffics in the worst sort of melodrama. Director Ann Shanahan and her cast have made the best of some truly bad material, however. Jack K. Magaw's intriguing scenic design--which transforms the City Lit stage into a gloomy arboretum--accurately conveys the menace inherent in James's work. And Cameron Feagin as the hard-nosed governess and Page Hearn as ne'er-do-well schoolboy Miles (and the rest) do well at plumbing Hatcher's few moments of true dramatic depth. But ultimately this exquisite production is a waste of energy: Hatcher's play remains a watered-down, easily digestible product, not a multidimensional piece of theater.

--Nick Green

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