Imaginative ‘Turn of the Screw’ a Winner (4 Stars)

TURN OF THE SCREW, Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the Henry James story; Presented by Simple Machine. November 8, 9, 10, 15, 21, & 22 at the Gibson House Museum, 137 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02116 and November 14, 16, 17, & 23 at the Taylor House Bed & Breakfast 50 Burroughs Street Jamaica Plain, MA 02130 All performances will start at 7:30 pm. The performance runs approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.

A mysterious bachelor seeking a Governess for his two young wards. The young woman applying for the position.  The housekeeper who holds the secrets of the country home known as Bly.  These are the main ingredients in the Gothic ghost story The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, being presented in a spooky environmental production at the historical Gibson House Museum in the Back Bay, and at the Taylor House Bed and Breakfast in Jamaica Plain.

Once we hung our coats, we were ushered down a narrow stairway into the basement kitchen.  The house manager and some reps from the Gibson House gave a brief history of the building, constructed in 1859 as one of the first structures in the newly land-filled Back Bay.  They pointed out unique features and joked that the wallpaper upstairs “is older and worth a lot more than you are”, and asked us to please not touch it or anything else.  And it was pretty amazing, a golden painted wallpaper with a texture begging to be touched.  Gibson House is a perfect environment for the Henry James story, first published in 1898. (it should be noted that the Gibson House Museum is open for tours, Wednesday through Sunday afternoons at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00, or by appointment).

As their company name suggests, it’s the “deceptive” simplicity in the production that makes it so accessible.  This adaptation, by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, uses a story theater approach, with only two performers, an actress to play the Governess and an actor who takes on everyone else.

The husband wife team of Stephen Libby and Anna Waldron founded Simple Machine two years ago, with a production of the “meta”-theatrical play rogerandtom.  With just two actors and minimal props, Simple Machine creates the world of Henry James’ classic Gothic ghost story. Anna Waldron is the newly hired Governess.  Waldron’s youthful features and porcelain complexion work well in evoking this nineteenth century “modern woman”, embarking on her first job. With a shift in posture, a turned away gaze, or an upturned collar and attitude, Stephen Libby becomes the other characters of the story, from the Narrator (just who is he?), to Mrs. Grose the housekeeper, Milo the young boy, and the Master himself.  (He also knows his way around the ins and outs of Gibson House: one moment he’s appearing at the top of the grand staircase, popping out of a downstairs doorway, or silently striding out from the darkness.) In their first, enigmatic scene, Libby’s Master lets Waldron’s Governess  know that there are secrets at Bly better left unspoken.

Director M. Bevin O’Gara has created beautiful tableaus and moments, made increasingly suspenseful in the chiaroscuro lighting. With subtle shifts of light, some of it aided by unseen hands, just out of view, and utilizing the simplest of lighting “machines”, out of the shadows and darkness the very real surroundings of Gibson House become the locales called for in the story:  the leafy shade of a golden sunlit garden, or the stark stillness of an after midnight vigil.

For over a century, critics, scholars and readers have debated the different interpretations of Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw. The Simple Machine production may not answer all the questions, but it’ll keep you entranced as the story unfolds.  With only 18 seats available each performance, TURN OF THE SCREW is one of the hottest tickets in town. For more info, go to

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