October 22, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 29  

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Screw delivers real horror -just in time for Halloween

The Turn of the Screw

Starring: Claire Jullien, Sean Arbuckle
Directed by: Miles Potter

By Mark Bruder
Gazette Staff

Is anyone really scared of the dark anymore?

Ghost stories may have been frightening at the ripe old age of six, but kids grow out of those fears. Nonetheless, Hollywood insists on pumping out horror films ad nauseam, feeding the ravenous monster called desensitization. The difficulty imposed on the entertainment industry to unearth stories that can really strike a cord and hopefully, transcend into nightmarish fantasies, is intensifying. The Turn of the Screw does just that.

This Halloween, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruegerand even Chucky can step aside, because Miles Potter has been concocting something of his own. As the director of such Grand Theatre productions as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Christmas Carol and The Glass Menagerie, Potter has taken playwriter Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Henry James' 1898 classic and created a real fright-fest.

Set in Victorian England, an age synonymous with sexual repression, the story is deeply woven with sexual innuendoes. For a mild example, in one scene, the following riddle is stated: "What hangs on a man his entire life, but never touches him?" The answer, of course, is his name. Any other answers the audience may have come up with are a result of James' desire to confront the sexual taboos of his era. This trend follows much of the play.

The tale follows a young woman, played by Claire Jullien, who is hired to be Governess in Bly, a beautiful country home. Their two young children, 10-year-old Miles and eight-year-old Flora, along with their housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, are the only occupants. The events unfold over the span of six days and six nights. Other references to Genesis are inserted intermittently, such as the appearance of a snake, fruit and unspeakable forbidden temptations.

Jullien executes her performance with commanding skill and articulation, remaining on stage for the full 80 minutes. Her counterpart, Sean Arbuckle, who portrays the rest of the characters, assists in the complete control of the audience's hopes and fears, one of the most sought-after abilities of any performer. Jullien, a seasonal Stratford performer and Arbuckle, a Juilliard trained actor, complement each other while, feeding off the audience's anticipation.

Though the audience does not actually see ghosts during the performance, there is no doubt Jullien and Arbuckle are the artists, with the stage serving as their easel. Painting picture after picture, horror after horror, it becomes apparent the slice and dice thrills of Hollywood are overrated and quite unnecessary.

Is there anything this play doesn't have? With high-pitched screams guaranteed to raise the hair on one's neck, masterful lighting effects (Kevin Fraser) that play with the shadows and an ominous set design (Peter Hartwell) encompassing a single chair and staircase, the only missing link is the sound. Given there was no need for sound effects during emotional moments, an underlining score that crept in and out of coherence may have been beneficial at other times.

In the end, it all comes down to how one prefers to be scared. If watching a victim get butchered by Jason, devoured by Hannibal Lecter or chased by ghouls and goblins is entertaining, then go for it. However, do not forget about the unspoken terrors of this reality. Ghosts may not be real, but the belief of their presence can and will turn any psychological screw.

Screw Info At A Glance

What: The Turn of the Screw (dir. Miles Potter)
Where: The Grand Theatre, 471 Richmond St., London
When: Now until Nov. 1, Tue.-Thu. at 7:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Matin's Sat. and Sun. at 2 p.m. and Wed. at 1 p.m.
Tickets: $15 to $46, call The Grand Theatre Box Office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593



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