I admit, Michael Hollinger’s tight, 90-minute Ghost-Writer, now being presented by Quotidian Theatre Company, snuck up on me. It may seem to tip its hat pretty early, as titles go, but you’ll find there is more to this witty and surprising three-character play than its title reveals.
What you should know going in is this: typist Myra Babbage is addressing a visitor (a.k.a. the audience) while she awaits further dictation from her former employer, author Franklin Woolsey. Mr. Woolsey passed away a short time ago and Miss Babbage claims to hear a continuation of his last novel, as yet unfinished. The play is nearly a monologue for Myra interrupted by selected flashbacks from the typist’s time with Mr. Woolsey.
Like a genteel chamber mystery play, the moments reveal fragments of the complicated triangle that includes the author’s spouse, Mrs. Vivian Woolsey, until the audience discovers the true heart of the tale – a truth I would not dream of spoiling here.
Hollinger’s attention to detail is uncanny – formal turns of phrase, the rather formal nature of employer-employee relationships, and the social niceties that are now almost quaint. His dialogue – blended with literary references, bon mots, and some very funny lines – serves to pull in the listener into this bygone world of private secretaries, candlestick phones, and social dances like the hesitation waltz and the foxtrot.
Three strong performances, certainly a hallmark of Quotidian, anchor the production and all three inhabit the turn-of-the-last-century period with effortless style. As Myra, Carol Spring mingles charm, fierce independence and quiet passion that adds fuel to the unfolding drama. Spring’s eyes fairly twinkle when she discusses taking dancing lessons or when she recounts passages from Woolsey’s best writing.
As her employer, Steve LaRocque is the epitome of a distinguished gentleman from the early 1900s – formal and firm, pensive and witty. He reminded me of a favorite university professor, one who is both revered, beloved and sometimes feared but with all due respect. I marveled at how much I watched LaRocque during the times he stood silently for long periods of time – a testament to his powers of concentration as an actor.
closes April 28, 2019
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Entering the work nest, we meet the formidable Mrs. Woolsey, a memorable performance by Stephanie Mumford. Vivian’s chirpy, friendly demeanor can quickly turn to a withering look or a barbed phrase, aimed primarily at Miss Babbage. Mumford reveled in Hollinger’s varying shades of grace and grit, as she served as a steady and surprising foil to both the typist and the writer.
Thinking of a chamber music trio, Myra is the lead violin, Franklin. the cello, and Mrs. Woolsey, the oboe – if that gives you some idea of the harmonics and counterpoints that were at play. I leave it to your own imagination if you take in this satisfying three-hander, which I highly recommend you do.
Director Laura Giannarelli – one of the founding members of Washington Stage Guild and a fine actress in her own right – has staged Ghost Writer with gentle authority, allowing the actors to blossom and Hollinger’s play to work its magic. Set designer John Decker has provided a judiciously appointed, Edwardian apartment, in dark wood and just enough period detail to suit the play. The lovely set is aided by the simple yet effective lighting design by Don Slater. The pièce de résistance is the work by Stephanie Mumford. Not only did she take the stage as Mrs. Woolsey, Mumford designed the fabulous costumes, providing Vivian with three detailed frocks right out of a 1915 edition of Colliers, and Woolsey’s natty suit. Myra’s understated ensemble completed the fine detail of the exquisite wardrobe.
Ghost Writer is a gem of a play, polished by Quotidian to reveal its brilliance. I urge you to go admire its sparkle.
Ghost Writer by Michael Hollinger . Directed by Laura Giannarelli . Featuring: Steve LaRocque, Stephanie Mumford, and Carol Spring . Costume design by Stephanie Mumford . Scenic design by John Decker . Lighting design by Don Slater . Sound Design by Clay Teunis . Stage manager: Elliot Lanes . Produced by Quotidian Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.