THE SPIDER'S WEB

A series of adaptations from classic stories produced by Everett Frost at the studios of WGBH FM in Cambridge, Mass. I contributed four productions: three produced at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, one (The Turn of the Screw) at WGBH.

 

BARTLEBY, THE SCRIVENER
by Herman Melville

The production is based on my earlier adaptation and production of the story for the Black Mass series in 1963. Bartleby, the pathetic hero has since become a popular depiction of passive aggression for those who find themselves helpless in our time of vacuous energies.

 

Adapted & Directed
  Erik Bauersfeld
Music composed & Directed
  Bill Spencer
Technical Production
  Danny Kopelson
   
Cast:
   
Bartleby
  Raye Birk
Master of Chancery
  Erik Bauersfeld
Nippers
  Drew Eshelman
Mr. Barnes
  Robert Elross
Lawyer (1)
  Irving Israel
Lawyer (2)
  Charles Dean
Officer
  Jack Shearer

 

Length: 60:00

Listen: Earshot

 

AN OCCURANCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE
by Ambrose Bierce

Adapted & Directed
  Erik Bauersfeld
Technical Production
  Danny Kopelson (Fantasy Studios)
   
CAST
   
Narrator
  Erik Bauersfeld
Payton Farquhar
  Julian Lopez-Morillas
Judge
  William Patterson
Platoon Commander
  Gail Chugg
Federal Scout
  Charles Dean

 

Length: 60:00

Listen: Earshot

In this Civil War story a Southern land owner, Payton Farquhar, "an original secessionist ardently devoted to the Southern cause" attempts to burn down a Federalist railway bridge over Owl Creek. He's caught and hanged, and travels back, in the second of descent, to his home and wife. As in many of Bierce's stories there is a curious clue, a phrase, an ambiguity, that would turn the tale around; a hint that something was different all along. Clifton Fadiman says of the tales: "They are so condensed that they take your breath away".

In section two of the story, Bierce turns back to a scene preceding the Southerner's attempt to burn down the bridge. Payton and his wife are sitting near the gateway to their estate. A "gray clad soldier" appears and asks for a drink of water. "Mrs. Farquhar was only too happy to serve him with her own white hands". Bierce's information about the bridge and the "gray clad soldier" ends the second section of the story with the surprise twist "He was a Federal Scout." Why would a Yankee want to provide information that would invite a southerner to destroy the bridge? Was he simply trying to kill off another Confederate? As a Yankee he would have known that the bridge was fully armed and protected. Payton Farquhar presumed the scout was a southerner. Was the "Yankee scout" a prior visitor to the lady with her "white hands?" The story concludes with Payton's death as his wife embraces him... a ghostly image. Was Payton tricked or, as the author tells us earlier, "all is fair in love and war"?

 

 

WASHINGTON SQUARE
by Henry James

Adapted & directed
  Erik Bauersfeld
Music composed & directed
  Ken Heller
Technical Producer
  Danny Koppelson
  Fantasy Studios, Berkeley
   
   
CAST
   
Catherine Sloper
  Barbara Direckson
Dr. Austin Sloper
  Sydney Walker
Lavinia Penniman
  Marrian Walters
Morris Townsend
  Raye Birk
Elizabeth Almond
  DeAnn Mears
Mrs. Montgomery
  Barbara Oliver
Mariah
  Candice Barrett

 

Length: 4 parts, 30:00 each

Listen: Earshot

In the elegant film version of the story, Olivia De Havilland plays the deprived daughter and Ralph Richardson the cold and indifferent father. The film ends with the daughter triumphant. She tormented her dying father, and dismissed her perfidious suitor, leaving him banging on her front door; Catherine, with her candles, mounting the stairway with a resigned but triumphant close-up. Ruth & Augustus Goetz did the adaptation for the stage and William Wyler followed closely for the film. In the James version, Morris Townsend departs in a huff, Catherine returns to her parlor: "picking up her morsel of fancy-work, she had seated with it again---for life, as it were." No banging on the front door, no mounting the stairs in solemn triumph.

Why did James keep Catherine meek, but determined to terminate Morris? She gives an answer when Morris has asks if she is angry. "No I am not angry. Anger does not last that way for years. But there are other things, Impressions last, when they have been strong. But I can't talk." Catherine had gained in strength, she had no need for revenge. That consistency of character is maintained in the novel, and with that James maintains his portrait without resorting to popular appeal. Interesting to see how many slight changes in character Catherine goes through in the stage and film versions in order to build a consistancy with the Goetz's final scene. Interesting also to imagine how dramatically moving even to popular audiences the James version taken seriously by skilled theatrical hands could be...if that was what they wanted to do.

 

 

THE TURN OF THE SCREW
by Henry James

Adapted & directed
  Erik Bauersfeld
Music composed & directed
  Ken Heller
Technical Production
  Melanie Berson & Steve Colby
   
CAST:
   
The Governess
  Jenny Sterlin
Mrs. Grose
  Ursula Drovik
Miles
  Jay Harrington
Flora
  Jenny Arnot
   

 

Length: 4 Parts 30:00 each

Listen: Earshot

The Spider's Web casting director selected performers among which there were no British voices. A British actress, Jenny Sterlin, I had already worked with in Berkeley for many radio plays, was currently living in Boston. I called ahead to audition her for the leading part of the Governess. She was my choice and was excellent. But the story's children, fine as they were, couldn't quite make the accent and the deviation may be apparent. James set the ghost story in England, so I tried to bide by his setting, long before the problems of casting.

There have been many adaptations of this story, all of which omit James's opening section of the novel. It is not named as a chapter, nor as an introduction; it is a kind of prologue and a mystery. We never return to this little scene of guests gathered together to exchange ghostly tales. One of the guests, Douglas, promises to contribute the journal of a Governess, long deceased; the governess of his own childhood sister.

I have included that opening scene, a story by one of the guests: a little boy had a bad dream, "a visitation...of a dreadful kind" and he cries out for his mother, "not to soothe him but to encounter the same sight that had shocked him." That is a theme central to the novel. The scene continues and among the guests is the narrator (presumably James himself). It then leads up to the opening of the journal, as told by the governess. Her name is never given. Douglas never reappears as the reader of the diary. The ghosts are present and named, but never heard. For what they might have said, see the libretto to the Benjamin Brittan opera, The Turn of the Screw.

James is a master of ambiguity and in his introduction to the NY Edition of the novel, he explains, in a mystifying way, why he did what he did. "Make (the reader) think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications." The little opening scene is full of implications, and the listeners, will, with their interpretation, reveal their own horrors for a final turn of the screw.

There is seldom, if ever, an irrelevant note in James's writing, nevertheless, what works (as the opening scene) in a well wrought novel may not do as well in the theatre or a movie, but it can find a place in a radio drama.