The Column Online



by William Archibald
adapted from Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw

Richardson Theatre Centre

Director/Propmaster - Charles Ballinger
Stage Manager - LeeAnn Ducker
Set/Lighting Designer - Chris Berthelot
Sound Designer/Technical Director - Richard Stephens, Sr.
Costume Designer - Courtney Walsh
Backstage Crew - Riley Niksich
Electrician - Wyatt Moore
Artistic Director - Rachael Lindley
Executive Director - Lise Alexander

Flora - Summer Stern
Mrs. Grose - Deborah Key
Miss Giddens - Isabell Moon
Peter Quint - Hal Heath
Miss Jessell - Heather Ramirez
Miles - Lance Davis

Reviewed Performance: 10/7/2018

Reviewed by Rebecca Roberts, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

If you’re trying to find a way to start off the Halloween season right, Richardson Theatre Centre’s production of The Innocents is a surefire way to get into the perfect spooky mood. This show has no end of unnerving effects, elegant expository dialogue, and mentally manipulative twists; picture a clever combination of The Bad Seed, Mary Poppins, and Jane Eyre. And by the end of the show, the audience can choose to interpret what they’ve seen in a wide variety of ways – from a simple eerie ghost story to a deeply psychoanalytic account of the supernatural.

Miss Giddens, a young and optimistic governess, arrives at an isolated country home in 1880s England. She is greeted by her seemingly adorable new charge, Flora, but quickly notices things at the house are not as they seem. Once Flora’s brother, Miles, is expelled from school and shows up at home, conflicts rapidly progress into chaos. Plagued by ghosts who seem visible only to her and surrounded by two blossoming psychopath children, Miss Giddens quickly spirals into an emotionally conflicted state of madness.

Director, Charles Ballinger, bravely took on the challenge of interpreting a slightly convoluted story in a way that the audience could understand. Unfortunately, I left the theatre feeling confused as to the true nature of certain characters and plot points. Whether that was purposeful or simply due to an ambiguous script, there was definitely room for Ballinger to have clarified certain elements through staging and direction. Ballinger filled certain areas of the stage with action very well, but left other areas almost completely untouched. His direction in dialect is commendable, as each actor held onto their accents very consistently and with little variance. That said, there were a few actors whose specific English dialects didn’t quite seem to fit with their character. So, while Ballinger definitely introduced great elements to the production, there were several areas where he could have taken things much further.

Acting as audience surrogate was Isabell Moon as Miss Giddens, arriving at the English country home with the same questions and confusions that we, as the audience, had; as well as (allegedly) being the only one who could see the same supernatural elements we saw. Moon spoke clearly and effectively, with not one of her lines being difficult to understand. She also carried herself with perfect poise and had a consistent English accent throughout. However, her consistency was sometimes too stagnant and lacking in variety, making it difficult to assess what should have been abrupt changes in Miss Giddens’ emotion and sanity. Toward the end of the show, I would have loved to see a more haggard version of the bright-eyed governess who began the show.

Summer Stern, at nine years old, took on the intense role of Flora with the dedication and professionalism of a seasoned actor. She never tripped over her large chunks of dialogue, and she traveled throughout the stage with absolute confidence. While her vocal inflections lacked variety and remained at a very consistently high-pitched level, that is something that could easily be fixed. Overall, Stern’s accent and phrasing were spot on. And she embodied the classic “seemingly innocent Victorian child with an off-putting smile” trope beautifully!

Meanwhile, Lance Davis played Miles, Flora’s older brother. Davis had a bit more difficulty clearly articulating some of the dialogue, which led to some plot confusion. He maintained a confident physicality, but could have gone even further in characterizing Miles’ manipulative and antisocial tendencies. Ultimately, Davis shows great promise and will absolutely blossom under the correct guidance, in the future.

Mrs. Grose’s captivating and appealing storytelling was brilliantly performed by Deborah Key. Her intermittent fidgetiness and cleaning habits throughout scenes clearly communicated Mrs. Grose’s role in the household – the nervous but all-knowing housekeeper. Key’s accent was consistently perfect – dialect and all. And her task of giving Miss Giddens (and, in turn, the audience) important background information was delivered unmistakably, and really helped keep the story moving at an intelligible pace.

Hal Heath and Heather Ramirez, as the two ghostly apparitions, appeared and disappeared onstage in a perfectly unnerving fashion. While their makeup seemed a bit too heavy for such a small theatre space, it made it clear that their presence was an unwelcome intrusion into the home. Sound designer – Richard Stephens, Sr. – strengthened the ghosts’ hauntings even further, with incredibly harrowing sound effects and thematic arrangements.

Courtney Walsh’s costumes did a wonderful job conveying the show’s time period and mood, so the audience could fully comprehend their surroundings. Flora’s dresses, coat, and even nightdress were perfectly period and clearly represented the innocent child Flora was expected to be. While Miss Giddens’ outfits were lovely, they seemed to be not quite from the correct time period, and possibly a little fancier than a governess would have worn, in that time. The ghost costumes were very well done, distinctly showing that the characters were not of this world, while still maintaining the appropriate time period.

Chris Berthelot designed a lovely set, with plenty of multipurpose areas scattered across the stage. The furniture was very beautiful and perfectly period appropriate. Sadly, the room described in the characters’ dialogue didn’t really match what we saw. The walls were dull, the decor unremarkable, and the staircase rather dinky – not the elegant and incredible room that the script intended it to be. Additionally, the only window in the room also acted as a door, which led to some confusing entrances and exists. However, said window led to some very beautiful lighting effects, also designed by Berthelot. The lights streamed in through the panes, and was vital in indicating time of day and mood of each scene.

While you might leave the theatre with more questions than when you arrived, this story will stick in your mind all the way home (and maybe even late into the night). Some of the best theatre can be found in small town, hole-in-the-wall venues…and this one is certainly no exception. Start your Halloween season right by supporting local theatre and making the drive to see Richardson Theatre Centre’s production of The Innocents.

Richardson Theatre Centre
518 West Arapaho Road, Suite #113
Richardson, TX 75080

Plays through October 21st.

Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:00 pm.

Tickets are $20 on Thursdays and Sundays, or $22 on Fridays and Saturdays.

For more information, visit their website at To purchase tickets, call their box office at 972-699-1130 and press 1.