The Turn of the Screw, Illegal Theatre Company, at the Performance Loft. With its unorthodox two-actor, multicharacter format, Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Henry James's Victorian ghost story is catnip for actors and directors--prime fodder for audition monologues and malleable enough to accommodate all sorts of directorial indulgences. At the same time, Hatcher's Turn of the Screw is a shadow of James's original, every bit as ghostly and intangible as the story's poltergeist presences. No matter how it's dressed up, the script always has a terrifically boring and antiseptic feel: the terror is meted out in calculated drops, and the play ends up feeling drier than a box of teething biscuits.
Director Tim Mazurek's appropriately spare staging for the Illegal Theatre Company immediately distinguishes itself from previous Chicago productions, however. He cleverly centers much of the action on the sole set piece, a withered armchair, and wisely leaves it to the actors to conjure up the illusion of depth. Kelli Nonnemacher as the unhinged governess and George Ducker (shifting between the housekeeper, the lord of the manor, and an impish boy) work overtime, and their unflagging conviction goes a long way toward selling the material. The script's gimmicky smoke and mirrors and puffed-up dialogue remain a turnoff, but this production adds some flashes of color to Hatcher's otherwise drab canvas.