Michael Hollinger’s Ghost-Writer may have been inspired by the relationship between Henry James and his secretary Theodora Bosanquet, but there is something delectably Jane Austen-y about the story and its decorous emotions. The play, receiving a primrose-pretty production at MetroStage under the assured guidance of director John Vreeke, presents one of those achingly subtle romances where a mere touch on the forearm is as burning as a caress and conversation is the most beguiling form of foreplay.
Are you the kind of person who believes semicolons are an affront to polite society and exclamation points the bawdy strumpets of punctuation? Someone who, when under the sway of a crush, spends countless hours interpreting sharp intakes of breath, pauses and sidelong glances? Then Ghost-Writer is right up your alley.
Beyond being a witty treatise on punctuation (even the title makes a sly joke about a certain writer’s love of hyphens) and a romance of grave restraint, Ghost-Writer also succeeds as a play about writing, which the secretary Myra (Susan Lynksey) describes as a “wait for the words.” No evoking the muse, no feverish bursts of creativity, just stilling the mind and body and waiting for your dreams and desires to soak into letters and then form words.
This brief billet-doux to love and the labor of writing satisfyingly explores the bond between fictional early 20th century American novelist Franklin Woolsey (Paul Morella) and his typist Myra, who becomes his conduit after he discovers that the rhythm of her clacking is a strange music that unleashes the prose pent up in his brain. Dictation becomes collaboration, as Myra begins by taking over the rigors of punctuation and then seems to anticipate Mr. Woolsey’s words before he even utters them.
This breathtakingly private union—the scenes of them working together seem so intimate you almost feel embarrassed about looking in—proves a source of envy for wife Vivian Woolsey (Helen Hedman), who, during one shrewd exchange, politely shows Myra exactly where she provided inspiration for some of his finest characters.
Vivian’s concern is actually the impetus for the play’s action. Mr. Woolsey dies suddenly while composing his latest novel, but Myra continues the work, insisting that it is he dictating from the grave.
Vivian has an invisible investigator—the audience—come in and see for themselves Myra’s suspicious enterprise. Is she really channeling a dead novelist’s prose? Is Myra a deluded spinster? Or is it something else—the birth of a writer in her own right who is reluctant to emerge from the shadow of her mentor?
Closes June 16, 2013
1201 North Royal Street ”
1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $48 – $55
Thursdays thru Sundays
Miss Lynskey’s Myra, with her grammarian’s diction and her erect posture, looks every bit the ideal career woman of her era. From business school classes to dance lessons every Thursday, Myra is out to improve herself every way she can. Her plan, however, goes astray when she succumbs to the symbiotic relationship with Mr. Woolsey. Miss Lynskey shows with carefully articulated gestures and phrasing, the pleasure and pain of becoming one with someone who cannot return the favor. When she has to let him go, the sting of separation is palpable.
Miss Hedman’s regal portrayal of Vivian reveals the character’s not-so-attractive traits and a twinge of sympathy for Myra’s attraction to her husband, as she knows all too well how lonely it is to love a writer. Mr. Morella also ably depicts the distracted, absorbed life of a novelist, someone at once a model of restraint but also someone who will do anything to get the words out of his head and onto the page.
Ghost-Writer does not provide answers to its many ambiguities, but instead daintily teases us with the possibilities. As such, it is a tender treatise on unspoken affection, the writing process and what we remember and what we wish was so.
Ghost-Writer by Michael Hollinger . Directed by John Vreeke . Featuring Susan Lynskey, Paul Morella and Helen Hedman . Designers: Jane Fink (set), Ivania Stack (costumes), Robert Garner (sound) and Alexander Keen (lighting). Jessica Winfield is the Production Stage Manager. Produced by MetroStage . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Patrick Folliard . Washington Blade
Rebecca J. Ritzel . City Paper
Susan Berlin . Talkin’Broadway
Barbara Mackay . Washington Examiner
Laura Fries . AlexandriaNews
Jordan Wright . Alexandria Times
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Nelson Pressley . Washington Post
Roger Catlin . MDTheatreGuide
Yvonne French . DCMetroTheaterArts