‘The Turn of the Screw’ at Creative Cauldron at ArtSpace

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Creative Cauldron presents the World Premiere of The Turn of the Screw, a musical adaptation of Henry James’ novella, with Book and Lyrics written by Stephen Gregory Smith and score by Matt Conner. Conner and Smith co-direct this suspenseful production alongside Musical Director Alvin Smithson, and it is the first installment in a five-year commissioning project called “Bold New Works for Intimate Stages,” which will allow Creative Cauldron to produce an original premiere each season, and they are off to a thrilling start!

 Ethan Miller and Susan Derry. Photo by Gary Mester, Written in Light Photography
Ethan Miller and Susan Derry. Photo by Gary Mester, Written in Light Photography

Scenic Designer Margie Jervis uses a simple overall design for the interior of the Bly House; a withdrawn country estate set high on a hill in England. White sheets cover the furniture, and chained partitions mark the doorways. A translucent veil is used as a backdrop, and ghostly figures appear behind it throughout the show. Jervis is also the costume designer, and does a fine job showcasing the early 1900s with conservative collared dresses and romantic hairstyles. The veil is a great element that amps up the drama and eeriness, but most of this effect is due to the lighting designed by John Sami, including subdued hues and flickering candlelight. The chilling music is provided by Alvin Smithson on Piano, Jeff Thurston on Violin, Aaron Rider on Cello, and Chris Youstra provided the orchestrations, which are supervised by Warren Freeman.

When the young and inexperienced Miss Giddens (Susan Derry) is hired as the new governess for two orphaned children,  she begins in a nervous state: will she be able to handle such a task? However, the calming reassurance of the housemaid Mrs. Grose (Sherri L. Edelen) and sweet demeanor of her young charge Flora (Libby Brooke) eases her anxiety…that is, until Flora’s brother Miles (Ethan Miller) is expelled from boarding school and is sent home, bringing all sorts of hidden secrets and demons with him.

As Miss Giddens learns  all sorts of dark secrets about the family’s past, including the ghastly death of the governess before her, Miss Jessle (Caitlin Shea), and the sinister nature of their former under butler Quint (Ryan Sellers), she finds that she becomes shrouded by a sense of evil that threatens to overwhelm her. As these hauntings take deeper forms and cause more and more distress, Miss Giddens maintains that the spirits of her predecessors are endangering the family…but are these apparitions real, or is this the result of a fragile mind in distress?

 Sherri Lynn Edelen Simpson and Susan Derry. Photo by Photo by Gary Mester, Written in Light Photography.
Susan Derry and Sherri L. Edelen. Photo by Photo by Gary Mester, Written in Light Photography.

The ensemble in this production deliver excellent performances across the board, though I was particularly impressed by the performance from the young actor Ethan Miller. His portrayal of Miles, a manipulative, deceptive, and deeply troubled boy, was bone chilling and extremely professional .

Musical numbers like “Make Believe” and “Puzzle” make you fear and pity his character at the same time. Paired with Libby Brooke as his impressionable younger sister Flora, these two child actors show a lot of talent! Susan Derry has a powerhouse voice, her favorite song of mine being “Tiny Little Ship,” where she shows incredible vocal range. Caitlin Shea has a beautiful voice as the tragic Miss Jessle (“The Lake” is a shivering number), and Sherri L. Edelen is terrific in the emotional song “Moment.”

Caitlin Shea, Libby Brooke, and Susan Derry. Photo by Gary Mester, Written in Light Photography.
Caitlin Shea, Libby Brooke, and Susan Derry. Photo by Gary Mester, Written in Light Photography.

The interaction of Mrs. Grose and Miss Giddens also provides some moments of comic relief from the building tension. Ryan Sellers is downright scary as Quint, though I favored his turn as the children’s uninterested uncle in the song “The Interview,” a  lighthearted song amongst a long list of deeper numbers.

Creative Cauldron’s production of The Turn of the Screw is hypnotic and unnerving, beautifully directed, acted and sung by a fabulous cast. This is one new musical you don’t want to miss! It’s this month’s ‘Must See’!

Running Time: 90 minutes, without an intermission.

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The Turn of the Screw plays through February 22, 2015 at Creative Cauldron at ArtSpace – 410 South Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA.  For tickets, call (703) 436-9948 or purchase them online.

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