Tightening What’s Frightening

Flat Rock Playhouse makes a gothic classic even scarier

There’s a scare behind every tree in Turn of the Screw. 

It’s not a Halloween story, but Flat Rock Playhouse is presenting the psychological thriller The Turn of the Screw — based on Henry James’ 1898 novella about a live governess, a dead governess, and a couple of eerily knowing children — at just the right time of year.

“The suspense is sustained; it never lets go,” says Lisa K. Bryant, director of the show and the Playhouse’s producing artistic director. “James intended for it to have an ambiguity that I think is part of the fun, that makes it exciting. We’re going to tell it like a ghost story in a London Victorian theater, with everyone in the audience leaning forward waiting for someone to holler Boo!”

In this production, there are several characters, both real and phantasmal, but only two actors. Stacie Bono, currently starring in the Miss Saigon Broadway Revival tour, plays a governess who arrives at a remote country estate to find that her youthful charges have dark secrets and that her new home is violently haunted (or maybe it’s just her sanity that’s under attack). 

Daniel Rothman plays all the other four male and female characters. “Casting is at least 50 percent of the director’s job,” Bryant acknowledges, and she was thrilled by Rothman’s audition after Bono introduced him and suggested that he was the perfect choice.

“I just knew he could do the sexy bachelor, and the elderly Irish woman, and the 10-year old boy,” Bono says with a laugh. “Very few have the prowess that Danny Rothman has, and that makes my job easier.”

She is, however, facing certain logistical challenges. 

“During the whole show, I don’t think I leave the stage,” says Bono. “That’s what an actor dreams of, a role that uses all your [theatrical] muscles.” What’s more, many of Bono’s lines are delivered to characters who aren’t present on stage, but are only pictured in her mind. 

“The whole trick to acting is to react to the other actors. But I have to imagine what I am supposed to be reacting to, while I’m reacting to it. I’ve been trying to come up with images in my head of what those [invisible] characters look like. I can substitute my actual nephew for one of them. It’s better to have someone concrete in my life to relate to and make it feel more grounded.”

But the audience may feel anything but grounded. “We intend to scare you,” admits Bryant, who reveals that she’s switching things up with the set design. “For this show, we are doing something we haven’t done before at Flat Rock Playhouse. I want you to be a little bit nervous walking into your house when you get home.”

The Turn of the Screw is presented by Flat Rock Playhouse (2661 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock) Thursday, Oct. 24 through Saturday, Nov. 2. Show times are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 and 7:30pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm. $17-$54. For tickets and more information, call 828-693-0731 or see flatrockplayhouse.org.

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