Syracuse Stage opens season with The Turn of the Screw

Review: Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation is a do-it-yourself ghost story

A rainy Friday night greeted the 39th season opener of Syracuse Stage: American novelist Henry James’ ghost story The Turn of the Screw. A thick audience streamed in for the performance, swaddled in raincoats and peeking from under dripping umbrellas.  

We were all there for the same reason: to see acclaimed playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of the thriller novella, the account of a naive English governess who finds herself caring for two children on a haunted estate -- and, eventually, fighting for their very souls. 

Actors Kristen Sieh, left, and Curzon Dobell play seven roles in "The Turn of the Screw."

The tale is notorious for inspiring the 1961 horror film, The Innocents. As I settled into my seat in the intimate Storch Theatre, I looked forward to a deliciously frightful evening. 

Artistic director Tim Bond welcomed the audience to the season opener, reminding us to “turn off our cellphones, and turn on our imaginations.” 

The show began in eerie darkness. We collectively held our breath as a cold, blue spotlight came up on The Man (Curzon Dobell) and The Governess (Kristen Sieh). Hatcher’s version ambitiously features two cast members playing all seven roles in the story. I inched forward in my seat, anticipating goosebumps, a chill up my spine.

But the creepiness I craved was nowhere to be found, and for most of the show, I couldn’t figure out why. 

Director Michael Barakiva, the production team and the actors have superb, professional backgrounds. Shoko Kambara's conceptual set - a gothic chandelier, cane back chair and large, vine-clawed window - was brilliant. The expert lighting design of Thomas Hase emulated a sunny parlor and then whisked us into a lonely, moonlit garden.

Eventually, it became clear that the height of the audience’s suspense during the show relied on their own imaginations, as Bond said.

A lack of sound design left a gaping hole in the show. The calls of a kingfisher and unearthly whispers were performed by Dobell, a bold choice, but I wanted creaking floors, heavy doors opening, the sound of wind hissing through branches. 

I also wanted more faces, voices and cast dynamics. I’ve read many reviews raving about Hatcher’s duo cast, but invisible  characters are the stuff of fairytales compared to a concrete ghoul lurking in the shadows.

Maybe I wasn’t prepared for the deeply psychological aspect of the show. Maybe I - and the audience members who congregated outside the lobby to complain about the dangling suspense - mistook Hatcher’s goal, or Barakiva's goal.

So, fine readers, I end my review with the words of Henry James, “Don't mind anything anyone tells you about anyone else. Judge everyone and everything for yourself.” 

Go see this show and decide for yourself.

See you at the theater!


“The Turn of the Screw” @ Syracuse Stage, 820 E. Genesee St.

September 21- October 16

Adults: $28-50, 18 & under: $18, 40 & under: $28  

Student rush tickets available day of performance: $18

Bonus: Outside the auditorium, The Onondaga Historical Association provides an intriguing exhibit of James’s ties to Syracuse, including pieces of the family estate and posters outlining the history of the the James family. Fun fact:  James Street was once called the finest street in the country, according to the OHA.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.