Friday, October 24, 2014

Review: How to Scare an Audience 101

Tis the season for a ghost story! With Halloween creeping toward us, Everyday Inferno presents an adaptation of one of Western literature's greatest ghost stories. In Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, adapted by Jamie Wylie, an age old psychological thriller about a new governess and her possessed children is reexamined and given a hauntingly spooky spin.
Performed in a room of the Moriss-Jumel Mansion in New York, The Turn of the Screw tells the tale of a dinner party where Douglas, the host, shares a story of intrigue about a young woman sent to Bly to care for Flora and Myles, a pair of children who may or may not have a secret of their own. As the story goes on, mysterious figures and ghosts of the past appear given the guests, and audience, a good fright. Where writer Jamie Wylie and director Anais Koivisto succeed is keeping the audience engaged from start to finish. The intimate parlor setting evoked the hauntingly innocent spirit but when you use a specific space with little theatrical ability, there is a chance that the spooks may not translate. While some experienced the horror, the overall thrill factor was underwhelming. But it is with great ambition to tell a ghost story in a site specific setting that Everyday Inferno should be greatly commended. The theatricality of having the party guests serve as the characters of the story was a clever device however it may have spoiled the intrigue of what surprises were coming as you watched the actors come and go from the room with no secrecy.
Leading the ensemble was Meg Kiley Smith as the Governess in a tour de force performance. Smith commanded the stage, giving her character the wonderful journey of strong woman to potential insanity. Sam Ogilvie as Miles was hauntingly perfect as the young boy with a plethora of secrets. Leslie Marseglia had little to do as Mrs. Griffin except interject with a little quip but it was her terrifying presence in the shadows of the hallway as Miss Jessel that defined her performance. The juxtaposition of the two characters was quite lovely. Graham Miles served as the occasional comic relief as Mr. Griffin, though you almost wished he had more to do to show off his strengths. James McCloskey doubled as party guest James and the source of the madness Quint. His moments as Quint, lurking outside, offered many onstage and in the audience a freight but had McCloskley not had the double duty and thusly being seen exiting the Mansion, his spook could have been even grander.
Director Koivisto did a phenomenal job guiding the company through storytelling. The key to any successful ghost story is to keep the audience captivated, and she did so. With the site specific space a source for occasional blocking issues, Koivisto did a fine job ensuring every seat to be a good seat. However the only moment that wanted so badly to be played upstage facing the audience was the final moment with the Governess and Miles as some audience members could not see the action and thus not comprehending what had happened. Koivisto also served as costume designer and did a wonderful job evoking the period. Marseglia’s black dress was perfect as she blended into the darkness allowing her to be quite ghostlike with the aid of the LED lanterns.
The Turn of the Screw was one of those Catch 22 productions. On one hand, the site specific nature added a haunting element to the ghost story style play. On the other hand the lack of theatricality that could have scared the entire audience was lacking because of the inability of the space. Either way, if you’re in the mood for some Halloween fun, get yourself to the Moriss-Jumel Mansion.

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