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Review: 'The Turn of the Screw's' fails to fully haunt the unique space in which it's staged

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Staging a classic 19th century ghost story in a historical 19th century house sounds like an artful theatrical marriage. Unfortunately, Simple Machine Theatre’s production of “The Turn of the Screw” doesn’t quite live up to its haunting potential.

Stephen Libby and Anna Waldron — who take on the roles of all of Henry James' characters — certainly deliver compelling performances. Waldron delivers two screams that will raise your heart rate. Unfortunately, fine acting can't save this show from its failings.

At the performance this reviewer attended (held at The Gibson House Museum), it felt like actual ghosts would be more welcome than the audience. Upon arriving, attendees were hustled into a small basement room, where a quick rundown of the house rules preceded the start of the play.

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In short order, we schlepped back upstairs to the museum’s historic foyer where we sat, in cramped quarters, for the remainder of the show. The actors performed from varying spots on the staircase or in direct line with the audience. The intimacy that this afforded proved awkward and, even in such a small space, not all of the seats have clear sight lines.

There are also problems with the lighting design and execution. The room lights remain on for some of the production and, if in the wrong seat, their glare is distracting. The tricks employed to create a frightening sense of impending calamity or to herald the arrival of otherworldly visitors feel only slightly more sophisticated than the ghostly effects rendered by the proverbial little kid with a flashlight.

That said, you don’t have to employ the latest high-tech machinations of the haunt industry to create edge of your seat theater — you do, however, have to commit fully to your production.

Ultimately, the failure to use the space to its fullest potential — and there is much of it — makes the production’s site specifics feel gratuitous. A solid staging in a black box would likely have been far more effective.

If you go

'The Turn of the Screw'
Through November 23
The Gibson House Museum, Boston or The Taylor House B&B, JP
$25,857-574-0550
simplemachinetheatre.com

 
 
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