The Column Online



by Henry James
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher

Kitchen Dog Theater

Directed by Christina Vela
Stage Manager - Jeremy Escobar
Dialect Coach - Emily Gray
Scenic Design - David Walsh
Graphic Design - Sullivan Perkins
Lighting Design - Aaron Johansen
Assistant Lighting Designer - Stephanie Jayco
Sound Consultant - John M. Flores
Costume Design - Samantha J. Miller
Technical Director - Michael Wang

The Man - Cameron Cobb
The Woman - Jenny Ledel

Reviewed Performance: 3/31/2012

Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

In a world often excessively high-tech it is unusual to see an artistic production as low-tech as Turn of the Screw. The story by Henry James was a serialized novella penned when people had to use their imagination. The written word had to be descriptive. Perhaps for that reason the play, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher in 1997 intentionally directs producers to use little scenery, few props and minimal technology, hoping instead to create ambiguous themes.

Turn of the Screw is a ghost story told by its main character, The Woman, who plays the part of a Governess, and The Man, who plays all other characters. The lack of technical effects insists that audiences use their imagination based on what the characters say and show. This is unusual today, but well done by Kitchen Dog Theater.

Two actors share a sparse stage, a stairway and a chair. The Woman, played with high energy and a wide range by Jenny Ledel, acts out the story of a Governess engaged by their uncle to raise two young children. He, a bachelor in London, wants nothing to do with them. The Man, played by Cameron Cobb, narrates and acts the other characters in the story. What unfolds is extraordinary story-telling that's well worth seeing.

Because the technical aspects are minimal, it's necessary to talk about what's not there. Missing are props, backdrop scenes, sound effects and any evidence of a house, yard or lake. Yet there they are in the story and you see them through spoken text.

Scenic Designer David Walsh places a chair on an empty stage in front of a white staircase. The two actors make full use of the stage, around and up and down the stairs, behind the black walls and even in the audience doorway. Lighting by Aaron Johansen provides mood shifts and focus with stark white spots, pinpoint colors through the stairway, subtle dark red washes and a ghostly light from the entryway. Lighting is so subtle it's non-intrusive but very atmospheric. Eerie sounds greet you when you enter building the atmosphere for a mysterious story. All other sound effects are voiced by Cobb's The Man. John Flores consults on this use of silence and sparse sound. The technical team which also includes Michael Wang and Stephanie Jayko creates a magical space for this story.

This low-tech approach places a heavy burden on the actors. Jenny Ledel's governess puts herself whole-heartedly into the story and keeps the audience focusing on a single time-line through the story. Cameron Cobb not only shifts between characters as diverse as a 10-year-old boy, a middle-aged woman, a young bachelor and an implied ghost, but must also jump into and out of the story as narrator. Both actors must include imaginary characters that are part of the story, and they make them so visual the characters seem to appear. Cobb frequently and instantly transitions to become a new character and puts subtle but distinct physical presence into each character so you stay clear as to who he is and easily see the uniqueness of each. His frequent shifts are counter-balanced by Ledel's consistent portrayal of a 20-ish young lady of the 18oo's who arcs ever so gently from a nervous young job-seeker to a strong authority of the estate to a scared, but resolute woman with sinister overtones. These actors present an extraordinary performance.

This play requires a dialect coach since it is set in high-society London. There is a very slight English accent which changes slightly for each of Cobb's characters; however, accents are subtle and do not distract from the text. Ledel's governess stays true to her accent throughout.

Costume creations by Samantha Miller are simple and appropriate for the period and style. Ledel's simple Victorian skirt and blouse looks like a young lady who is around but not part of the upper class, yet allows for playfulness as she and the male characters interact. Cobb's suit adjusts t0 imply a woman maid, a London bachelor or a young boy. Neither actor changes clothes as there is no time off-stage for The Woman and only moments for The Man.

Kitchen Dog chooses a good vehicle for relatively new director Christina Vela. This play presents major challenges with minimal technical support, a well-known story and assumed ghosts. Implied violence and sexual tension have to come across with ambiguous meanings. The script puts limits on how she tells the story but Vela makes strong choices, from casting Ledel and Cobb to a very creative use of minimal lighting and set. I applaud her for this direction.

The Henry James story provides even more depth and background. Yet I had to reread the long, involved passages of arcane English language frequently. James wrote descriptive, page-long sentences which are difficult to navigate in culture today. It takes effort to absorb the writing. However the play tells the story in a succinct, effective way, drawing in the audience from the first words and keeping them on-edge until the final blackout. There is not a moment you are not glued to the story-telling and must think seriously about what you believe happens.

Kitchen Dog's mission is "to provide a place where questions of justice, morality and human freedom can be explored." I highly recommend this play for lovers of English literature, people who love theater and great acting and anyone who likes to be told a good tale.


Kitchen Dog Theater
McKinney Avenue Contemporary
3120 McKinney Ave.
Dallas, Texas 75204

Runs through April 28th

Wednesdays ? Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 2:00 pm
Pay-What-You-Can, first 25 people, Wednesdays-Thursdays

Tickets are $15.00 - $20.00

For information and tickets, go to or call 214-953-1055.