Syracuse Stage’s “Turn of the Screw” seduces audience with psychological, thrilling ghost story


Directed by Michael Barakiva

Presented by Syracuse Stage

Location Storch Theatre 820 E. Genesee Street Syracuse

Running time  90 minutes, no intermission

Dates September 21- October 16

Tickets Adults: $28-50, 18 & under: $18, 40 & under: $28  | Student rush tickets available day of performance: $18

“That’s what we are fighting for Mrs. Grose: innocence,” the young English governess tells the housekeeper in  Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw.”

But things are not all they appear to be in Syracuse Stage’s latest production that is both absorbing and spooky. Whose innocence needs defending in this sinister story?

Curzon Dobell plays Mrs. Grose the elderly housekeeper of Bly. But he also plays Miles, the young governess’ 10-year-old charge, as well as her boss – the distant uncle. The distinctions between the three characters are blurred, as he seamlessly transforms from one to the other without leaving the stage.

In fact, neither Dobell nor Kristen Sieh, who plays the governess, leave the stage throughout the 90 minutes, allowing the energy to intensify as the ghost story plays out.  And young Flora, whom the governess has been hired on to tutor, is never seen at all.

Michael Barakiva has directed a tightly knit show with moments that swiftly evolve from charming to unbalanced.When Dobell as the young Miles is exchanging riddles with the governess, they run back and forth- the pace heightening as they begin to hurl their puzzles at one another. And throughout the scene, Dobell begins to crouch in an almost menacing stance.

There’s something all the more poignant about a grown man playing a child at the center of this ghost story. A story as much about loneliness and losing your mind as it is about ghosts.

“You shall be lonely, you shall be very lonely,” the uncle says at the beginning of the play. “Do you fear loneliness?”

“I do not fear what I know,” the governess replies. “We were all children – what we want is affection.”

And so the governess’ loneliness rushes her into affection for Flora and Miles, which leads her to a misplaced attachment and a skewed sense of reality. As the ghosts grow more real to the governess, so Sieh begins to shed the wide-eyed naivete.

Courtesy of Syracuse Stage

Curzon Dobell and Kristen Sieh star in "The Turn of the Screw" onstage at Syracuse Stage through Oct. 16.

Themes of innocence and misplaced fear are at the core of every child’s nightmares-every monster under the bed- and yet we are so drawn to ghost stories.

In the style of the novella, which tells the story through the governess’ diary, Hatcher’s adaptation has the governess speak the audience to mark each day and set each scene. And in the tradition of ghost stories told around a campfire or in the dark, so the set is simple — forcing the audience to imagine the rest. The play is as much about what haunts each individual audience member, as it is about the governess seeing ghosts.

Thomas C. Hases uses lighting design to cast moonlight through a window grid, casting shadows over Shoko Kambara’s minimalist set, which consists of a chandelier, a window and a single chair.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, “The Turn of the Screw” will leave you with plenty of questions to ponder.

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