Thrilling ‘Turn’

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For those who missed the works of Henry James in their high school or college literature classes, foolsFURY theater company may just well provide an enticing, if unorthodox, introduction to the writer, with its compact, invigorating interpretation of the novella “The Turn of the Screw.”

The show is onstage at Theatre Artaud this weekend as only one production in “FURY Factory 2007,” a three-week festival of performances at various venues by some 14 contemporary ensembles dedicated to presenting new, experimental works. (Promoters of the event say it differs from other fringe festivals in that it showcases a limited number of high-quality pieces.)

In this adaptation of the classic by Jeffery Hatcher, director Rod Hipskind fulfills foolsFURY’s mission with the play, a thrilling, live ghost story set in 1872 about a governess whose job takes her into the depths of her psyche and into despair.

When the teacher (played well with naiveté and later, appropriately, terror by Csilla Horvath-Lewis) accepts a post overseeing two young children, she soon finds that she gets more than she bargained for — even though one of the conditions of taking the job involves never contacting the youngsters’ uncle. When the creepy fellow (Alexander Lewis) engages her, he says he won’t be at his country home where the children reside, and he insists she forget him immediately.

Once at the residence, she meets the housekeeper, the equally cryptic Mrs. Grose (Alexander Lewis again), and finally, the children Flora and Miles, with whom she forms a tenuous connection after learning about their horrifying past.

The production’s beauty is in its sheer inventiveness. Hipskind creates amazing moods simply with the onstage use of metal lamps, which are switched on and off by the characters themselves.

Not all of the characters are clearly defined; actors Laley Lippard and Brian Livingston romp about the stage, adding interesting contrast to the proceedings, keeping the impressions provocative, but never getting in the way of the spooky tale.

The unusual treatment, including the fact that the audience actually sits on the stage and some of the play’s action is in the tiered seating area (where theatergoers normally would be), is just another ingenious touch that makes the show all the more engaging.

The Turn of the Screw ***

Where: Theatre Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco

When: 9 p.m. today and April 26; 7 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $15

Contact: (415) 626-0453, Ext. 018 or www.foolsfury.org

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