By HEDY WEISS
Great minds do often think alike. But there is something truly uncanny in the similarities between Henry James' 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, and Sigmund Freud's seminal work, The Interpretation of Dreams, which was published just a year later.
Did the two men ever meet and discuss notions of sex, death, repression and the workings of the subconscious?
That is just one of the many questions you might find yourself asking after watching "The Turn of the Screw," the enthralling stage adaptation of James' novella that opened Wednesday night at Writers' Theatre.
To be sure, "The Turn of the Screw" is not just another gothic ghost story. And because it is so full of strange visions, deep ambiguity and black humor ("the halls of madhouses are filled with governesses," we are told), that subjecting this play to Freudian analysis is all but irresistible.
Deftly adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher and elegantly directed by Jessica Thebus, the show features just two actors. And both are wholly sublime.
Kymberly Mellen (glowing and articulate despite what on opening night was obviously a terrible cold) plays the young governess who comes to the grand estate of Bly House after a rather eerie job interview. She assumes the care of two very troubled, orphaned children -- the wildly precocious Miles and his mute younger sister, Flora.
LaShawn Banks plays multiples roles (narrator, master of the estate, housekeeper and Miles) and does so brilliantly through the subtlest shifts in voice, intensity and intention.
Both Miles and Flora appear to have been profoundly traumatized some years earlier, perhaps by the fiercely passionate (and fatal) love affair between a butler, Peter Quint, and governess, Miss Jessel. Were the children sexually abused by these two? Did they observe them having sex? Or was the governess herself abused as a child and now in the throes of some sort of erotic meltdown?
As played out in Writers' Theatre's ideally intimate space (where designers Jack Magaw and J.R. Lederle have worked magic with black lace curtains, mirrors and candles), Mellen and Banks are mesmerizing.
'THE TURN OF THE SCREW' HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Through March 30
Where: Writers' Theatre at Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon, Glencoe
Phone: (847) 242-6000