Before The Shining, Poltergeist, and "Children of the Corn", there was The Turn of the Screw. Henry James's 1898 novella drove home a truth that parents or caretakers know all too well: children can be really, really scary. In James's time ghost stories were a form of after dinner entertainment, told around roaring fires on winter nights. This production, adapted by Jamie Wylie under the direction of Everyday Inferno's Artistic Director, Anais Koivisto, captures that feeling perfectly -- it helped that we were seated in the parlor of the 18th century Morris-Jumel mansion.
The story, given to us by Mr. Douglas (Scott David Reeves) in the framing device -- a storytelling contest, of course -- concerns a true account of a nameless fresh and eager governess (the rightfully frantic Meg Kiley Smith) who falls for her new home in the country, Bly, and her two charges, the lovely Flora (Leslie Gauthier) and sweet, precocious Miles (Sam Ogilvie) on sight. The only hitch is the kids' uncle's (Graham Miles) strange strictures not to bother him -- oh, and the mysterious matter of Miles' expulsion from boarding school. Also, ghosts stalk the estate's grounds and slowly, turn the titular screws on the once-amenable children. All right, there's a lot wrong. And it's done so, deliciously right.
Koivisto and Wylie have created a taut little horror story, with inventive and simple staging, a wonderfully fluid use of James' own framing device, and enough levity to give the audience a respite before the next, and markedly more effective scare. We are as engaged as the partygoers (who transition seamlessly from listeners to players in the tale) as our heroine and her confidante, Mrs. Grose (the wonderfully cockney Victoria Blankenship) unravel the pernicious influence of her ghoulish predecessor, Miss Jessel (the level-eyed Leslie Marseglia) and the degenerate Quint (an eerily affecting James McCloskey). Those looking for seasonal scare with a period touch, should make the trip, take in the history (Washington once lived in the mansion) and enjoy the pre-show aperitifs.
Everyday Inferno's The Turn of the Screw continues its run at the Morris-Jumel Mansion through November 2. For more information and tickets visit https://www.everydayinferno.com/
Through November 2 at the Morris-Jumel Mansion.