Jeff Smith 11:52 a.m., May 21
In Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation, Henry James' spooky tale isn't a traditional ghost story. It's more like a demonic possession. Or seduction.
A young governess on her first assignment can become "easily carried away." Like Jane Eyre, and the heroines of much 19th century fiction, she assumes she'll meet a handsome patron, he will see her inner glow, and they'll fall in love.
But unlike her literary sisters, when the governess comes to Bly, an ancient estate in Essex, she faces "serious duties and little company" and "really great loneliness."
Not to worry, she says. Her imagination can make airy nothing real, in a flash.
As described, she's as much a musical instrument, to be played upon, as a person. Or, in James' franker term, to be "seduced."
Bly's crooked staircases and Gothic tower are a comeuppance for the governess: not the expected castle but a big "ugly antique." And though her patron has the romantic prerequisites - a handsome gentleman, alarmingly rich - he has a heart of ice. And refuses to care for Miles and Flora, the nephew and niece he must raise.
Neither one's the "angel" the governess anticipated. Are they just precocious, or about to be possessed by Peter Quint and Miss Jessel (demons who can only "touch" by entering human form)?
Hatcher's intermissionless piece, which is a mite talky, and the Intrepid production make convincing cases for several alternatives. Ably directed by Jason Heil, two actors play all the roles on a bare stage with a three-tier platform in the rear. Jason Bieber's lighting casts ghostly shadows and includes a blackout dark as a pharaoh's tomb.
Christy Yael's governess begins with innocent bravado. She'll succeed where others failed. Many readers of the story swear the mystery's all in the governess' head. Yael smartly avoids tell-tale, psychotic mannerisms. Though there times, toward the end in particular, when Yael could kick in more, her intensity makes what's real to the governess seem actual.
Sean Cox plays The Man - i.e. everyone else except Flora, Quint, and Jessel, whom we never see. Using different voices and body language Cox turns the patron, the meddling Mrs. Grose, and 10-year-old Miles into believable eccentrics quirky enough to ignite the governess' imagination. But Cox suggests something insidious in the boy. A second, more sinister voice breaks through on occasion, as if Quint has already possessed him.
So maybe we see and hear as clearly, or even more clearly, than the governess?
Or has her ability to sculpt reality from airy nothing swayed our point of view?