The Turn of the Screw

Given the monstrosities of our age, it's hard to regard a 19th-century ghost story as anything more than quaint, even if it is sourced in Henry James. Add to this consideration the dense literary timbre of Jeffrey Hatcher's script, and you've got an uphill battle for audience attention. Happily, this production, artfully directed by Dan Spurgeon, with accomplished performances by Amelia Gotham and Nich Kauffman, triumphs over those expectations. Shouldering most of the narration, Gotham portrays a governess hired to supervise the care of two orphans at a remote estate. Initially self-possessed, she begins to lose her bearings after sighting the specters of the dead former governess and her lover, while observing the strange behavior of her wards, whom she believes to be possessed by these spirits. Gotham's onstage transformation to madness is superb. The versatile Kauffman, capable of communicating a ton of meaning with a single squint, portrays all the other characters: the commanding master who hires Gotham, the uneducated housekeeper, a comic figure, the scary phantom and the disturbed 10-year-old Miles, at times a threatening presence. Any dramatized horror story needs creative lighting, and designer Dave Sousa, embellishing Tyler Travis' engaging black-and-white set, stylishly obliges. Underground Theater, 1312 Wilton Place, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through June 9.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: May 10. Continues through June 9, 2012

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