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Just in time for Halloween: An ingenious twist on an old-school ghost story

Just in time for Halloween: An ingenious twist on an old-school ghost story
Isaac Wade and Natalie Hope MacMillan star in the Actors Co-op production of "The Turn of the Screw," a Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation of the Henry James classic. (Lindsay Schnebly)

Jeffrey Hatcher's spooky adaptation of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" creeps its way into Actors Co-op's Crossley Theatre just in time for Halloween.

In ghost stories, isolation, both physical and psychological, is typically key.  In "Screw," the story revolves around a nameless Governess hired to care for two young children, Miles and Flora, at a remote English estate. Initially charmed by her charges, the Governess begins to suspect that these "innocents" have been schooled in vice by a sinister valet, Peter Quint, and the former governess, Miss Jessel, both now dead — but not quite gone, or so it seems.

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Critics have argued for decades over the keenly balanced ambiguities of James' tale.  Are the hauntings genuine? Or is the Governess in the grip of escalating psychosis?

Others argue that James intended a straightforward ghost story, and Hatcher has apparently taken that viewpoint to heart in his ingenious two-person version, which features one actor playing the Governess and another playing the other roles.

A veteran actor himself, director Robertson Dean elicits nuanced performances from his cast. As the Governess, Natalie Hope Macmillan is gripping as a sexually repressed spinster whose supernatural obsession results in tragedy. Isaac Wade displays virtuosic range as a warmhearted housekeeper and as young Miles, whose apparent "corruption" hints at sexual victimization. (Hatcher wisely minimizes the proliferation of onstage moppets by making Flora a non-speaking role, a traumatized tot who has not uttered a word since finding Quint's shattered body at the bottom of the estate's Gothic tower.)

Dean's pointedly minimalist staging is striking for its sheer stylistic economy, although one wishes he had not signed off on Jean-Yves Tessier's murky lighting design, which tends to obscure the actors' faces at important junctures. Still, for sheer eeriness and plenty of chills, this "Screw" satisfies our seasonal craving for the supernatural.

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"The Turn of the Screw"

Where: Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; ends Nov. 20

Tickets: $30

Information: (323) 462-8460; www.ActorsCo-op.org

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Follow The Times' arts team @culturemonster.

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