ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT: Hendersonville Little Theatre’s ‘Turn of the Screw’

By D. Lanier Shook                                                               October 25, 2013

Last night I had the privilege of attending the opening night of Hendersonville Little Theatre’s production of Turn of the Screw. It was the first time I’d been to the Hendersonville Little Theatre, which is a shame since they performed The Importance of Being Earnest in June. Fortunately they have a robust 2014 schedule planned and we can all look forward to attending the Little Theatre sometime within the next year.

I arrived early, found out where it was, and then went off to grab a cup of coffee before showtime. I should have waited, since the Theatre ticket booth offers a wide variety of affordable snacks and beverages that you can purchase before the show starts. However, its always a good idea to know where you’re going so you should click here and visit the Little Theatre’s website for directions. I arrived back thirty minutes before showtime and was able to get a front row seat. However, the theater itself is a intimate performance space without a bad seat in the house. But, getting there early is always a good idea wherever you’re going to sit.

The Little Theatre had pulled out all the stops to provide the audience with a great experience, with spectres roaming both inside and outside the building, and great music choices setting the mood before the curtain rose. At 7:30 Kai Elijah Hamilton, the director, came out on the stage to welcome the audience, remind us there was no intermission, and ask us to double check that our cell phones were off.

The Little Theatre’s production staff did an incredible job designing the set, sound, and lighting. The lighting mimicked the moonlight perfectly when it was supposed to. The sound effects were well chosen and well performed as well.

The actors were incredible. The three supporting cast members, Brandon Gash, Miles Rice, and Carolina Schultz did just what they were supposed to. Their performances gave the show the perfect touch and I’m looking forward to seeing all three in other performances at the Little Theatre. They knew what they were doing and they did it perfectly.

This stage adaptation of Henry James’ story was done by Jeffery Hatcher, an award winning modern playwright. (He also wrote for Colombo.) The play relies on two main actors, in this case Robert Walker and Jessica Donahue. Both actors outdid themselves in their roles.

Jessica Donahue played the main character in the story, the Governess. She brought an energy and intensity to the role that made it what it was. Her ability to portray the Governess’ transformation over the course of the film truly made the story come to life. A stage furnished with a single chair, a candlestick, a Bible, and an apple is a hard place to tell any kind of story. Yet Miss Donahue’s performance was not only convincing but frightening in its intensity. This is obviously an actress dedicated to her craft and I look forward to seeing her in other performances.

Robert Walker’s role only seems less significant if you don’t realize he had four roles to fill. His ability to morph from one character to the other at the literal drop of a hat was convincing and essential to the story. Each of his characters were believable and each one was essential to the telling of the tale. This is a very capable actor and I look forward to seeing Mr. Walker’s performances in the future.

Obviously credit must go to the director, producer, and other staff that brought this play to the stage. If this performance is any indication of the Little Theatre’s skill — and I’m sure it is — then I look forward to the plays I plan to attend. They did a wonderful job bringing this play to life.

Jeffery Hatcher’s adaptation goes beyond the surface of the story and delves into the raw emotion that Victorian society would have repressed. It emphasizes internal dialogue — even in conversation between characters — and explores who the characters really are and what their true desires really are. While Henry James’ original 1898 story left many questions unanswered Mr. Hatcher’s  twenty first century play seemed to answer all those questions in glaring detail. Mr. Hatcher’s story is not a subtle one and the actors performing it are called upon to give at least 110% of their effort.

This is a quality production with a great cast and director. But its also a frightening one that children might not fully understand. Its a production that will leave even the adults in the audience with many questions. Its an intense, sensual script and that is translated on the stage. Congratulations to Director Hamilton and his staff on a incredible opening night and good luck. Thanks for the great performance, I’ll definitely be back.

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