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THEATER REVIEW: Intrepid's “The Turn Of The Screw” hurt by sound problems

The new governess at Bly (Christy Yael) is young and naive, and harbors a secret crush on her employer. She is given complete rein at the dingy country estate, with instructions not to contact her boss for any reason.

Her charges – Miles, 10 and Flora, 8 – seem like relatively normal children, though she does wonder why Miles was tossed out of his fancy private school. Words like “corruption” and “unspeakable” are troubling, to say the least. And why doesn’t Flora speak?

Her questions to the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (Sean Cox), about what happened to the previous governess, Miss Jessel, are met with an enigmatic reply: “She wasn’t careful, Miss. She went off one night and then she was dead.”

Mrs. Grose also tells her about Quint, the previous valet, mysteriously found dead at the foot of the estate’s tower. And implies improper behavior between Jessel and Quint: “He did what he wanted with her.”

Soon the governess is hearing strange sounds (most supplied by Cox) and seeing the ghosts of Jessel and Quint. She is certain the children see them as well, but they deny it. But they are there.

Aren’t they?

Intrepid Shakespeare Company presents Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Henry James’ classic novella “The Turn Of The Screw” through April 15 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. Jason Heil directs.

James deliberately wrote the story to be ambiguous and open to interpretation. Hatcher has chosen to pare down the story, eliminating the descriptive sections and concentrating on the psychology of fear and/or insanity as shown by the governess. He’s cut the cast to two: the Governess and The Man (Cox), who plays Mrs. Grose, Miles and the children’s hands-off guardian.

Cox shows a chameleon-like ability to change characters on a dime, and to do it without benefit of costume changes. He stays in adult Victorian attire throughout, indicating characters by stature, gesture and voice. It’s an acting master class.

The story plays out on an appropriately dingy stage bereft of set pieces other than a single stepped structure and one chair. The room is surrounded by black curtains, which enhances the fear factor but has the unfortunate effect of swallowing sound.

I have long admired Yael’s acting – and did here as well – but she is fighting a losing battle with this sound-deadening room, which is less kind to a woman’s voice than a man’s. The in-the-round direction, which at opening had her too often speaking away from most of the audience, even upstage at times, does not help.

What I could hear was up to her usual high standards and utterly convinced me that this woman is losing her mind.

Is she crazy? Are there ghosts? Is this just evil manifesting in strange ways? See for yourself in Intrepid’s production of this classic ghost story.

Intrepid has scheduled several after-show “surround” events. We were treated to L.A. actor Jason D. Rennie’s scary interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit And The Pendulum.” See the website for details.

The details

“The Turn of the Screw” plays through April 15 at Clayton E. Liggett Theatre, 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas (on the campus of San Dieguito Academy).

Wednesday through Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

For tickets, call (760) 652-5011 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.