Performing Arts

Spinning Tree Theatre’s ‘The Turn of the Screw’ is frightfully good

Nicole Marie Green plays an English governess opposite Charles Fugate, who plays multiple roles, in “The Turn of the Screw.” The Spinning Tree Theatre production runs through Nov. 1 at Just Off Broadway Theatre.
Nicole Marie Green plays an English governess opposite Charles Fugate, who plays multiple roles, in “The Turn of the Screw.” The Spinning Tree Theatre production runs through Nov. 1 at Just Off Broadway Theatre. Spinning Tree Theatre

Two talented performers and a skilled director deliver a classy production of “The Turn of the Screw,” Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of the classic ghost story by Henry James.

How frightening you find this tale to be is a question of whether on some level you believe in ghosts — or, as in the case of this writer, you’re disinclined to discount supernatural story elements as so much mumbo-jumbo. Either way, this elegantly designed production from Spinning Tree Theatre produces more than its share of vivid moments and a pervasive macabre atmosphere.

Directed by Julie Shaw, well-known as an actress and singer, this show benefits from the presence of the versatile Charles Fugate and the appealing Nicole Marie Green, who bring the piece to life. Green plays an English governess hired by the uncle of two young children to be responsible for their upbringing. One of the conditions demanded by her employer: He must never hear about any problems she encounters. Nor will he be paying visits.

Fugate, who plays the uncle, bookends the piece as the omniscient narrator and faces the daunting challenge of taking on multiple additional roles — including a female cook and the 10-year-old Miles. Fugate as a child is a tough sell, but he handles the assignments with impeccable professionalism.

Green gives us a performance that becomes increasingly complex as the show unfolds. We watch her metamorphose from a good-hearted optimist to someone shocked into action by ghostly apparitions. The show runs about 80 minutes without intermission, and neither Green nor Fugate has time for leisurely transitions. The specificity and quickness of their work is generally impressive.

Hatcher’s script retains much of James’ prose, which creates vivid pictures of the Gothic mansion and surrounding estate where most of the action takes place.

The design team does splendid work, from Charles Moore’s spare but evocative staircase leading down to a general playing area on the stage floor, to Georgianna Londre Buchanan’s sharp costumes. Perhaps the most important contribution comes from Shane Rowse, whose lighting design cloaks the stage in modulated gloom — just dark enough to create a credible sense of the macabre.

Robert Trussell: 816-234-4765, @roberttrussell

Onstage

“The Turn of the Screw” runs through Nov. 1 at Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Penn Valley Drive. For more information, call 816-569-5277 or go to SpinningTreeTheatre.com.

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