The worst evil is the one you’re not sure of. Insidiousness is more threatening than open malevolence, because you don’t know where you stand.
Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw is based on the notion of the ambiguity of evil, the repression of sexuality, and the different ways we interpret both.
The story involves a governess, the children left in her care, and a pair of apparent ghosts with vaguely threatening designs on the children.
Are the ghosts real? Is the governess crazy? Or both?
It’s obviously a powerful theme. Since its publication in 1898, The Turn of the Screw has inspired films, TV movies, soap operas, radio scripts, plays, a ballet, and… a Kate Bush song!
This week, the Savannah Stage Company brings the story to life in another of the interesting adaptations from this fertile ground.
“Of course I’ve read the original, and a lot of it is vague and ambiguous about who the narrator is and what’s going on,” says director Bryan Pridgen. “Many of the characters we don’t actually see. They kind of mirror other characters or have a connection to them. We tried to make really strong choices.”
One of those strong choices includes the choice of stage adaptation, in this case by Jeffrey Hatcher.
“Aside from the story being so fantastic, we’re using an adaptation which only involves two actors,” Pridgen says. “It could totally be done with cast of six or seven, but that’s not how this adaptation is written.”
Pridgen says the two actors — Lexi Balaoing and Jeroy Hannah — create “such an exciting chemistry on stage. It’s a real challenge to carry the entire story for an hour and a half, with one actor changing character constantly. I have so much fun watching them in rehearsal.”
You’d be forgiven for imagining frantic costume changes and an old-fashioned impressionist’s routine, but Pridgen says it’s not going to go down like that at all.
Balaoing plays the governess, with Hannah taking on all other roles, including the housekeeper and the young children.
“When Jeroy changes from a housekeeper to a small boy, for example, that doesn’t involve any costume changes. It’s more of a physical change and a change of intention,” says Pridgen.
“The characters are very specifically written. That allows the audience to engage their imaginations in different ways.”
Pridgen says the actors “experiment with physicality and the character’s voice– not so much aesthetically but what their intention is. Is the housekeeper protecting the children from the governess or are they on the governess’s side?”
The overall impression is, of course, perfect for this ghostly Halloween season.
“Some elements to it are exciting and kind of give you the shivers. But the story alone we’ve discovered is so frightening and so creepy and unsettling,” says Pridgen.
“The things that happen and the relationships between characters frankly leave you feeling weird. We actually spend a lot of time laughing in rehearsal because it’s so uncomfortable.”
The Turn of the Screw
Where: S.P.A.C.E. Black Box, 9 Hernry St.
When: At 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25 and 26, Nov. 1 and 2; 3 p.m. Oct. 27, Nov. 3