American Players Theatre: The Turn Of The Screw

As part of their Out Of The Woods Readings, the American Players Theatre presented a one day pop up reading of The Turn Of The Screw. This is an adaptation of the Henry James novella by Jeffrey Hatcher and was directed by James DeVita. There are five characters in the play but only four speaking roles…and two actors, Kelsey Brennan and James Ridge. I’ll describe how this all works out as I go along.

This was originally streamed on October 29th, 2020, just in time for Halloween. But obviously I have been tardy in writing this and apologize to you and APT if I have left things out.

First off, with a running time of an hour and thirty five minutes there isn’t time for Mr. Hatcher to cover every detail in the James novella. But he has done a masterful job of condensing the story and advancing the sense of dread and foreboding that the story requires. And he maintains a bit of the original conceit that we are getting the story from the diary or journal of a governess describing her experience at Bly, a manor house in rural England.

Most of us are probably familiar with the story since it is a staple of American Literature courses and high school English classes. At one time I was a Henry James aficionado but it’s been a while since I’d read this…so my imperfect memory was challenged to follow the plot as it unfolded. But Mr. Hatcher’s text is so precise in the language that you can feel the eerie run down your spine, not only from the story but from the writing of it.

Now this was a reading and it was in Zoom and we have two actors. Ms. Brennan who plays the governess and Mr. Ridge who plays everyone else. So this makes it easier to present on screen as we aren’t swapping out speaking roles as the story progressed, just watching the two principals side by side. And the APT has used their summer experiences to master the technology. The camera positions were exactly right and the lighting worked marvelously to mirror the events in the story.

courtesy of the American Players Theatre

Now, I don’t know if I could have picked two better actors for these roles. One of the major limitations of Zoom readings is we have to live with actors…well…reading. They don’t have the advantage of using all of the body to project their role…they don’t have dramatic lighting or fabulous costumes…nor the actual physical interaction with the other players to tell their stories. But Mr. Ridge and Ms. Brennan absolutely nailed the voice changes and inflections and particularly the facial movements necessary to tell the story. Key skills when looking directly into a camera rather than trying to reach the patrons in the 21st row. But they were marvelous…the sneering lip…the surprised eyebrows…the broad smiles…the suspicious tilt of the head.

And Mr. Ridge in particular was challenged to change character as he changed character…simply sitting back from the camera for a moment and then changing the head tilt or eyebrows or posture to let us know who he was now portraying…and of course the just ever so slight but clearly differentiated vocal inflections and tones as he moved from the Master to Miles (the male child) to Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper.

Flora, the little girl at the estate, was described as not talking to anyone although she was capable of doing so…which was one less speaking role for this adaptation.

And it’s a ghost story of the most classic type. Maybe not scary in the 21st Century but still with the necessary eerie and creepy to keep us in focus and on edge.

So I was mesmerized throughout…at times taken aback by the ability of the play and the players to move me from one event and emotion to another…with essentially just their voice and face. There were a few times that I thought, I’d love to see this on stage, and then recanted and realized it would destroy much of the magic that I was seeing here.

screen capture from the APT reading of The Turn Of The Screw

And it rekindled my interest Henry James…I have a number of his works on my book shelf and will dust them off in the new year.

One last thought about theater before I conclude. I don’t know when we’ll all be able to safely sit together in a theater and share the experience of live actors on stage. Not soon enough but not just yet. But even when we can do that again…I am thinking that there will still be a place for intimate small productions like this on Zoom or another platform…that we can experience individually…and I hope we very very soon can do both.

A New “Out Of The Woods” Series From The American Players Theatre!

This is great news as we get further into the fall season. By now, in a normal arts fall season, most of us would have attended one or two or three arts performances…whether theater, music, or dance. And you are probably very much like me and frustrated that we aren’t yet ready to attend live performances. But after a very successful virtual play reading summer via their Out of the Woods series, Spring Green’s American Players Theatre is back with three new events!

There will be three readings. Each will originally stream live on a Friday night at 7 PM CST (see dates below) and then will be available for viewing on PBS until December 31, 2020. Here’s a few more…well actually a lot more…details:

For the last few years, APT has been exploring the idea of just what makes “a classic.” In that vein, this reading series focuses on plays by playwrights who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color, and are created in collaboration with BIPOC directors and artists.

Artistic Director Brenda DeVita said, “People who’ve been in our audience for a while will be very aware of our growing exploration of new voices; of new stories; of asking ourselves again and again what does it mean to be a classic? And we were blown away by the response from our audience – people who have been coming to APT for years, and from people who’ve never set foot on our property – about the first “Out of the Woods” play readings. And it was always our hope that we would be able to produce a second series of play readings written by BIPOC writers, and created by BIPOC artists. It feels vital in this moment to keep pushing ourselves to understand more deeply what it means to be human and to keep ourselves moving forward on our path toward a more equitable theatre space, and a more equitable world.”

And here are the times, dates, and plays that will be performed!

November 6 The Sins of Sor Juana By Karen Zacarías Directed by Jake Penner

Juana Inés de la Cruz is a brilliant and controversial poet making waves throughout the Mexican Viceroy’s court –particularly with his wife – in the 1600s by writing about love, feminism, religion and other topics not deemed “appropriate” for women of the time. The Vicereine is so taken with Juana that she arranges an engagement to keep her in court, while the Viceroy plots to ruin her reputation. Told by Juana from the perspective of two different worlds –the court and the convent – it’s the story of her battle for independence and intellectual freedom; weighty and funny and utterly relevant.

Featuring Melisa Pereyra as Juana, Janyce Caraballo as Novice, Triney Sandoval as Padre Núñez/Viceroy, Ronald Román-Meléndez as Silvio, Jeliannys Michelle as Madre Filothea/Xóchitl, Cher Álvarez as Sor Sara/Vicereine, Sebastian Arboleda as Pedro

November 13 Nat Turner in Jerusalem By Nathan Alan Davis Directed by Gavin Lawrence

In 1831, Nat Turner led a slave revolt that has been credited by some with accelerating the onset of the Civil War. While he was in prison awaiting his execution, Turner dictated his story to attorney Thomas Gray, and it was published as “The Confessions of Nat Turner, the leader of the late insurrection in Southampton, VA.” In Nathan Alan Davis’ 2016 play Nat Turner in Jerusalem, Turner’s final night in jail is reimagined in a meditation on past deeds and future repercussions that The New York Times called “an earnest, gravely lyrical gloss on a document that will surely always evoke passionate and widely different responses.”

Featuring La Shawn Banks as Nat Turner and Nate Burger as Thomas Gray.

photo courtesy of the American Players Theatre

November 20 Smart People By Lydia R. Diamond Directed by Melisa Pereyra

Just before Obama’s first election, four of Harvard University’s brightest – a surgeon, an actress, a psychologist and a neuropsychiatrist – struggle with a society that considers itself “post-racial,” and is all too often proven wrong. Jackson, Valerie, Ginny and Brian are all interested in different aspects of the brain, particularly in how it responds to race. But they’re also on a quest for love, success and identity in their own lives. A fiercely funny play about social and sexual politics.

Featuring Rasell Holt as Jackson Moore, Cassia Thompson as Vanessa Johnston, Amy Kim Waschke as Ginny Yang and Jeb Burris as Brian White.

*Please note: This play contains profanity, and sexual content and language.

As I said in my opening statement, this is exciting news and I am really looking forward to these productions. The plays that they read/performed earlier this year were marvelous.

But that’s not all that’s been going on in Spring Green! Check this out:

This latest edition of the “Out of the Woods” series joins other virtual content APT and its acting company have been involved in creating, such as the Words from the Woods poetry-reading series; Six Feet Apart: Conversations with the Core Company;and The Empty Box: Tales of Royal Screw Ups And/Or Extraordinary Scene Chewing from the APT Core Company.These videos can be viewed for free at

And as always, for more information, visit

See you at APT this fall, virtually!

American Players Theatre’s Back to the Woods Campaign

One of my biggest disappointments for the summer of 2020 was the cancellation of American Players Theatre’s summer season. This theater has meant a lot to me over the past 18 years or so. I had wanted to attend their theater for years but there were always things that got in the way. But while going through a divorce, I made the time to go. Some very important alone time that let me restructure my life and rediscover the arts that lived in my heart and my soul. At first I attended every Shakespeare play that they were presenting, usually one per month in June, July, and August. I made friends with a couple who ran a Spring Green motel and they always put me in the same room on every visit. But they moved on and I had to find other digs. sigh.

And then I met the love of my life and I was so eager to share my experiences at American Players Theatre with her. And she loves it as much as I…and we expanded our interests in plays and playwrights and also embraced the Touchstone Theater as it came into its own. And we visited my cousin who had a shop in Spring Green…and found favorite restaurants…and cherished our evenings (and matinees…something unusual for us) spent at APT. Magic memorable times. What an exciting period for both of us.

Over the past five years, we have changed our habits and attended a number of plays over a number of contiguous days around my birthday in mid-August. And this was the plan for 2020…and celebrate a milestone birthday as well. So this summer has given me a real sense of loss in any number of ways. But I will endure and look forward to the future of American Players Theatre. And that’s where we are today…let’s insure the future of APT. Read the email below…watch the video from Brenda DeVita…and please donate something! I will be giving them $70 to celebrate my 70th birthday and I intend to have drink at APT in 2021 on my next one!

Last week we celebrated Founders’ Day – the anniversary of APT’s first performance, which took place on July 18, 1980. Since that day more than 40 years ago, APT’s season has been in full swing at this point in the summer. Until now.  As soon as we announced the cancellation of our season, we began diligently planning and analyzing how APT is going to come out the other side of this. Here is our plan.

Today, we announce Back to the Woods: A Campaign for American Players Theatre. The campaign will raise the funds APT needs to literally get back to the woods and produce a full season in 2021. In the meantime, it keeps basic operations running and allows us to create a bit more virtual theater along the way (more news on that in the coming weeks and months). The goal is to raise $5 million by the end of 2021. Thanks to the generosity of thousands of you, we are already close to the halfway mark, with a total of $2,290,000 in hand already.

Once again, we ask for your help. And this time, we’d like to take it a step further. We want you to be our partner in reaching an even larger community of people who care about APT’s future.

Please visit our campaign site. There, you’ll find stories from people who love and believe in our theater and the work we do. Stories from people whose lives have been changed by APT. Each of them has volunteered to become a fundraiser. We hope their experiences inspire you to support their effort.

And we invite you to go a step further; to join them and become a fundraiser yourself for APT’s Back to the Woods Campaign. Tell your story. Then share it with friends, and help us get the word out to people who care but may not have given yet. Whether you join a team or fundraise on your own, starting a page is fun and easy, and any amount raised will go a long way in helping us reach our goal.

Above all, we treasure the relationship we have with our supporters, and our audience. We want to strengthen that relationship even further, as we fight for the future of our theater, together. And as always, we hope you’re remaining happy and healthy, and that we’ll see you safe, sound, and as soon as possible.