Henry James’ 1898 novella ushered in a psychological-type of ghost story that not only remains an immensely effective and chilling read, but has produced a virtual cottage-industry of plays, films, television shows, a ballet and even two operas. Jeffrey Hatcher’s minimalist adaptation remains remarkably faithful to the original even while reducing the proceedings to two actors. But since this is a work in which the difference between what is actually seen and what may be imagined to be seen is so vital to the story, the idea of one actress remaining the governess throughout while a single male actor takes on all of the other roles in the story—from the dispassionate uncle, to the troubled young boy and even the female housekeeper—there is an unintentionally uncanny quality to a single performer “becoming” these various characters so effectively that we as an audience become startled in watching a grown man make such unnatural transformations. That distracts us from evaluating the potential reality of what is happening, since even what is unquestionably real is often not there in this production. Would this work better as, say, a solo monologue by the governess, or perhaps a male actor serving reading the story to guests (we the audience) at a party after the fact the same way that James unspools the original yarn? Perhaps, since child actors who can effectively pull off the roles of the “possessed” children are few and far between and eliminating the children completely could work. Still, the acting of LaShawn Banks and Kymberly Mellen is so superb and the atmosphere of the original so eerily evoked fans of this tale and of the ongoing and fertile genre that it spawned will not want to miss it. (Dennis Polkow)
At Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, (847)242-6000. This production is now closed.