Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Turn of the Screw

Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill
Review by Rob Spiegel

Photo: Brennan Foster and
Abby Van Gerpen

Photo by Russell Maynor
In preparation for reviewing The Turn of the Screw at Aux Dog, I reread the original novella by Henry James. I had forgotten how convoluted James' sentences can be. But it's not just the sentences that are tangled; the logic of the story is confusing as well. I thought it was just me until I looked further and found literary critics through the decades have found the story confounding.

Yet still, it's a compelling ghost story that intimates peculiar relationships between adults and children. The effects of childhood trauma may be the real terror in this story, not the mere presence of ghosts.

American playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has taken the James book and created a tangible, even lyrical interpretation that delves deep into the story whole leaving the literary contortions behind. What we get is a very clear narrative that retains James' spooky mystery without unnecessary confusion.

Interestingly, Hatcher pares down the number of actors in the play without reducing the number of characters. Instead of four actors and two ghosts, we get one actor playing the Governess (Abby Van Gerpen) and a second actor (Brennan Foster) playing five characters while also offering occasional narration. On paper, that sounds brutally complicated, but the script by Hatcher and the delivery by Foster make it surprisingly coherent. We end up with a wonderfully lyrical script delivered by the excellent performances by Van Gerpen and Foster.

Director Richard Peck is a bloke of immeasurable talent. He has written 29 books, mostly novels. He's had more than a dozen of his plays produced around the country, and he is the past president of three different universities, including UNM. And while he has directed widely around the country, this is his directorial debut in Albuquerque. His production of Hatcher's interpretation of The Turn of the Screw is truly a treat. The set by Daniel K. Tabeling is simple but effective—nicely dark and smoky. The sound by Casey Mraz is quirky and tasteful, creating just the right ghostliness; and the costumes by Julie Stackable are pitch perfect.

The solid production crew supports quiet yet strong performances. Van Gerpen is lovely and engaging throughout the ups and downs of her character. Her a capella singing is especially effective in capturing the sweetness and naive earnestness of the Governess.

Foster takes on the considerable challenge of moving through five characters convincingly. God knows what he went through to prepare for this, but he makes each character individual, both through his voice and facial expressions—sometimes contortions. A slight move of his lower lip immediately lets us know he's channeling the young Miles.

Albuquerque theatre groups are presenting a wide range of Halloween productions this month, but this is one quiet gem you must see. It's sweet, it's horrible, and it's well directed and performed.

The Turn of the Screw, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the Henry James novella, will run at the Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm through November 12, 2017. General admission is $22. Admission for seniors 65+ is $20. Service or ATG members, $18. Student admission is $12. Reserve tickets at or by calling 254-7716.