Henry James novella takes a new turn

Kirsten Rusinak

After a long summer, no student returns to school the same person. Gwendolyn Kelly-Masterton, director of the independent student production “The Turn of the Screw,” explained that the play, set in the summer, is all about “growing up, coming of age and seduction.”
Let’s hope, however, that upon our return to Lawrence, our summer stories will not be as haunting as those in the play. “The Turn of the Screw” is a gothic ghost story adapted from a novella by Henry James, originally published in 1898.
Kelly-Masterton, a sophomore theater major, described the adaptation as “distilling the original story down to its essence” and making the work come across as “more theatrical than novel-like.” However, the highly stylistic script carries the play and was not altered to a great extent.
Cloak Theatre is an ideal location to stage the play because, as Kelly-Masterton put it, “The play absolutely, 100 percent, needs to be in the black box” and “subtle storytelling needs an intimate atmosphere.”
Both the set and number of actors are minimal. The set consists of one chair and a small stairwell, and only two actors appear in the play despite the fair number of characters written into the text.
Junior Caitlin Gallogly plays a conflicted governess who is convinced that the former governess and her lover – both deceased – are continuing their relationship from beyond the grave through the children she instructs.
Kelly-Masterton explains that the adaptation allows for the audience to “break down the fourth wall” and decide for itself whether the governess is neurotic or if she is reporting accurately.
The producer of the play, David Hanzal, takes on every other role, including a young boy, an elderly maid, the uncle, the narrator and the governess’ lover. Without relying on different costumes, Hanzal uses only the manipulations of his voice and body to distinguish between the multiple characters.
In preparation for acting these various identities, Hanzal explained that “each character had to have a specific physicality,” which forced him to become aware of his own “physical and vocal quirks” and his ability to stay neutral. He further prepared by watching various films to examine constructs of age and gender.
Hanzal’s concentration is in directing, but he knew even before he finished reading the play that he had to act in it. He and Kelly-Masterton – who usually acts – reversed roles and made the adaptation a joint project.
Hanzal and Gallogly acted together in last year’s staging of “Our Country’s Good,” and Hanzal is directing Kelly-Masterton in a play this coming fall.
The reversal of roles has been an interesting experience for both Hanzal and Kelly-Masterton.
Kelly-Masterton explained that she is enjoying the “big picture” that directing allows, whereas Hanzal is stretching his “ability to explore boundaries as an actor.”
In an 80-minute play, with no intermission, costume changes or understudies, the relationship between the actors is key, which is why they have been rigorously rehearsing for three hours a night, four days a week. Any Lawrentian can appreciate the value of that time commitment.
According to Kelly-Masterton, “The Turn of the Screw” is not just a play, but also “a storytelling experience.” The story is filled with wordplay and double meanings, leaving the play open to viewer interpretation.
Take an academic break this reading period and come see the play on either Fri., May 4, or Sat., May 5 at 8 p.m. in Cloak Theatre. The play is open to both students and the public and no ticket purchase is necessary. Only one side of Cloak Theatre will be open for seating, so arrive early.