Creative Cauldron debuted the world premiere of the musical adaptation of Henry James’ Gothic novella Turn of the Screw last Saturday, Jan. 30, at ArtSpace Falls Church.
The production, written by local theater veterans Stephen Gregory Smith and Matt Conner, tells the tale of a young governess, Miss Giddens, who believes that her two students, Miles and Flora Bly, are being manipulated by evil forces.
Miss Giddens is played by Susan Derry, a Helen Hayes award-winning actress who played Miss Jessel in the opera version of the show.
“Miss Giddens is a young woman with little experience of the world who is thrilled to have a position with two charming children,” Derry said. “But she quickly starts to unravel when she’s faced with things that she doesn’t understand and can’t pin down.”
“I think she’s very vulnerable yet she has this fascinating inner strength,” Derry said. “It’s sort of a dichotomy. These things exist sort of simultaneously and she’s trusting and very loving and warm. But there’s a fragility to her…she’s vulnerable, she’s not sure of what’s going on around her but at the same time she’s completely convinced that she does know.
“I think it’s very interesting to see a woman who is that sort of warm and open yet at the same time has this steely resolve at her center.”
Derry, who was recruited by Smith and Conner to play Miss Giddens in the play, advised theatergoers not to miss “Turn of the Screw.”
“Don’t miss it. It’s so special to have a world premiere in your backyard, especially one of this caliber,” Derry said. “The story can be a little bit scary, but it’s a fascinating commentary on human nature. And supporting new work in the theater is a privilege…it’s our job as theatergoers to get out there and be part of what’s coming up because one day it’ll be part of the canon.”
Smith and Conner’s “Turn of the Screw” is the first installment in the five-year Creative Cauldron commissioning project “Bold New Works for Intimate Stages.” Through the initiative Creative Cauldron will solicit actors, writers and composers every year for original works that are designed to be performed in small venues.
“To be honored with any sort of recognition in this business as a writer is always an honor,” Conner said. “There are a lot of writers out there who are hardly ever recognized. So for us to be recognized here locally it’s a really, really great honor to be a part of it and we’re just happy that we’ll be able to present our work as quickly as we have.”
Smith said that Creative Cauldron founder Laura Connors Hull suggested that they adapt “Turn of the Screw” into a musical. Prior to Smith and Conner’s adaptation, James’ novella had been turned into an opera, by Benjamin Britten, but never into a musical.
Smith said that he told Hull that he and Conner would check out the novella, that they “fell in love” with James’ story and immediately got to work on the adaptation.
“I think that Stephen and I have always been drawn to the darker side of stories,” Conner said. “We both enjoy Gothic, romantic and horror sort of genres. This story actually lends itself to all of that. It’s a very romantic, beautiful piece.”
Creative Cauldron is hosting a premiere gala and press night for “Turn of the Screw,” which runs through Feb. 22, this Saturday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit creativecauldron.org.