Ghost-Writer is a play by Michael Hollinger currently presented on the Riverside Theatre Waxlax Stage. I feel it is one of the best (if not the best) performances this season. It is based, albeit loosely, on Theodora Bosanquet (1880-1961), a secretary to writer Henry James from 1907 until his death in 1916.
In the play, the lead character is Myra Babbage (played by Robin Abramson), hired as a typist by popular novelist Franklin Woolsey (Brian Sutherland). The outer thread of the story is an interview of Myra conducted by an unseen journalist about the events leading up to Franklin’s death in the middle of writing his latest novel. During her opening monologue setting up the story, Franklin is actually onstage sitting in a fixed position staring out an imaginary window. He sits for quite a while until she remembers their first meeting, then he moves into the spotlight and they share dialogue.
Although she is hired strictly as a typist, she begins to challenge him on his use of punctuation, specifically the semicolon. It is a clever exchange that makes me feel as though she is now looking over my shoulder right now, ready to take out a ruler and rap my knuckles. So far, you will notice I have not used a single semicolon!
But their relationship is transformed over time from the semicolon dispute to a point she can actually anticipate what he will say. The highlight of that banter is when he begins to dictate a possible love scene that she finishes enthusiastically as he looks at her, stunned. It was great.
The stage is simple, but with several important props – a typewriter that should get an acting credit as the centerpiece of this show, a Victrola that plays a mood altering soundtrack at key moments (for young folks, Victrola is the predecessor of the record player, which is predecessor to the tape recorder, which is…oh forget it), and an ancient telephone that acts as a stand-in for the third of three human characters, Woolsey’s wicked witch wife, Vivian (Kim Cozort Kay). She is the play’s buzz kill, storming on stage from time to time expressing her poorly disguised fear of Myra and Franklin’s growing relationship.
The set piece occurs when Franklin dies suddenly in the middle of a sentence he is dictating. Through her grief, Myra goes on to complete the sentence and the novel, attributing it to his ghost, magically directing her fingers on the typewriter to finish the book as he would have if still alive.
I should note here that as a beginning writer years ago, I was told when writing a novel I should not read another novelist’s works because I might unconsciously start mimicking his style. Myra, whose skill went far beyond the mechanics of typing, was certainly capable of copying Franklin’s style and then lending her own imagination to the process, especially since she loved the man.
Ghost-Writer is the perfect play for such an intimate setting – 144 seats in the round and three actors, really one primary storyteller (Myra) in the spotlight the entire performance, supplemented by Franklin where appropriate and Vivian where inappropriate.
There is much more to the story that I have omitted from this review because I really want you to go see it for yourself; (note the semicolon) it is a performance you will not soon forget.
Ghost-Writer will appear on the Riverside Theatre Waxlax Stage until April 14 and then disappear forever. So call the Box Office at 772-231-6990 or go online at www.riversidetheatre.com for tickets before they too, disappear.