Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Turn of the Screw
freeFall Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule (updated)


Eric Brandon Davis and Emilee Dupre
Photo by Dalton Hamilton
FreeFall Theatre opens its 2019-20 season with ghosts and other paranormal goings on as a unifying theme, with Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. I saw another production of this adaptation just over a year ago, but that production was flawed by a casting misfire in one of the two roles. I am not convinced that this is my go-to version of the story—Benjamin Britten's opera with its poly-tonality best defines the ambiguity of the story.

Emilee Dupre as The Woman playing the new governess is just about a perfect version of what I visualize when reading the original novella. I cannot believe that she is 20 (the age given by both authors), but I don't find that age credible based on the character's steadiness when meeting such bizarre goings on, so it is not problematic beyond the moment when she reveals her age. Eric Brandon Davis, artistic director of freeFall and usually billed by just his first and last name, plays multiple roles which include the children's uncle, Miles, and Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper. He mostly uses his expressive face to move from one character from another. He is quite believable as Mrs. Grose, even though he is an extremely masculine presence. As we approach the denouement, and plot points are coming at a faster pace, Mr. Davis briefly loses his ability to sharply differentiate between Mrs. Grose and Miles, but this is only a momentary lapse. Both are very strong performances.

Resident dramaturg Timothy Saunders directs with great poise. The staging moves fluidly across a spare set dominated by a stone staircase and bedecked with dying moss and decaying leaves, courtesy of Tom Hansen. The set is suggestive, not realistic, and highly effective. The costumes by Mr. Davis are simple but correctly of the era, plain black dress for her, a man's day suit for him. Dalton Hamilton's lighting design does Herculean work in this otherworldly story, and Mr. Davis's sound design is off kilter, adding to the creepiness of the tale. Use of space, almost always a freeFall specialty, is fascinating, the audience seated in an "L" formatation across two sides of a square stage. It is not the most intimate use of this ever-shifting theatrical space, but there are moments when it adds to the feeling abnormality. This production definitely shows the company at its very best.

Next up is Lion in Winter, directed by new Associate Artistic Director Chris Crawford. Welcome, Chris.

The Turn of the Screw, through October 28, 2019, at freeFall Theatre, 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg FL. For ticket and performance information, visit www.freefalltheatre.com.

Cast:
The Man: Eric Brandon Davis*
The Woman: Emilee Dupre*
*=Member of Actors Equity Association


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