Friday Bookman and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary. After much back and forth over what we were going to do to mark the day, we decided to go see a play. Since our first date was on Halloween and we had wanted our wedding reception to be a Halloween party at which we would be dressed up as a bride and groom (the idea was quickly squashed by our parents), it is always extra fun to do something for our anniversary that is also Halloweeny. So a production of Turn of the Screw by Henry James seemed a most appropriate outing.
The play was put on at one of Minneapolis’s numerous small theatres. The Garage Theatre used to be, well, a car repair garage a very long time ago. It seats about 140 people so you get the idea of how small it is.
We had to wait in the lobby a little while before they allowed us in to sit down. There was only one employee selling tickets and making sure everything ran as it should. There were two volunteers, a man and woman who also appeared to be husband and wife. We were there early enough that we were privy to their instructions as to their duties. The man was staffing the concession stand and the woman was to take over the ticket selling so the employee could go do other needed things. At one point I overheard the gentleman asking what the play was. When hearing it was by Henry James, he did not know this particular story but he came out with, “I had to read The Jolly Corner once in college and it had the longest sentence in it I have ever seen. It went on for almost the entire page!” Poor Henry James, only remembered by most people as the writer of very long sentences.
Once inside and seated we found ourselves sitting in front of two elderly couples. One of the women was talking about our Hennepin County Library’s Pen Pals Lecture Series. This is a sort of a fundraiser for the library in which they have very famous authors come and give lectures with the opportunity to meet them at a reception as well — if you can afford to pay for it. I’ve never been because why pay money when I can listen to the podcast of the lecture a few months after the fact? Sure it would have been cool to see Salman Rushdie a couple of weeks ago, but $40 for a balcony seat at a lecture is a bit much especially since Bookman would want to go too.
Anyway, the woman was talking about the series and was especially excited that in the spring Armistead Maupin will be here. “He wrote A Tale of Two Cities you know,” says she. But then she stopped because it didn’t seem quite right. Her companions knew it wasn’t quite right either but no one knew what it really was so they kept saying Tale of Two Cities. First this made me and Bookman quietly snigger in amusement, then it started getting on my nerves and I came this close to turning around and saying, “You mean Tales of the City, Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, a very different book than Maupin’s!” But I held my tongue as the woman’s husband launched into a story about how they had gone to San Francisco and eaten at the same restaurant Maupin talks about in the book and how the same “abrasive” waiter still worked there. The man then reported with great delight some of the “abrasive” things they had heard the waiter say to other diners while they were there. He did not, however, say anything about what abrasive one-offs the waiter might have lobbed at him and his wife. Eventually, during this recounting, his wife, much to my relief, finally managed to come up with the correct title of the book, though she was unable to determine whether or not A Tale of Two Cities was a real book and if so who the author of that one might be. Sigh.
Finally, the play began. It was ninety minutes without an intermission and only two actors. One actress played the governess and she was on stage the entire time. She was really good, and lordy she must have been tired by the end of it all. The other actor played Mrs. Gross (the cook), Miles (the boy), and the narrator that frames the story. The girl, Flora, was left to the imagination since she does not speak and so was not needed as a physical presence. I was a bit concerned at first how a tall man who looked to be in his 50s was going to do at playing a female cook and a ten-year-old boy, but he pulled it all off quite well.
The adaptation was well done too. James’s story leaves the reader to decide for herself whether the ghosts were real or if the governess goes crazy and imagines everything. When stories like this are produced for performance it seems the director and actors tend to decide what the answer is and proceed accordingly. So it was that the play came down on the side of crazy governess. The actress, a young, sweet looking woman, did a marvelous job of going from over-confident to terrified to completely losing it. There was a very small scene at the end in which she is interviewing for another governess position and she repeats the same things she said in her interview at the beginning of the play, only this time, given all that came before, she somehow manages to look confident, innocent, and sly all at once. It was a tilt of her head and crook in her smile that did it and oh, it gave me chills!
Bookman liked the play very much too. We both decided that it turned out to be a most excellent anniversary celebration.