Are you an inspiring writer and want to see an example of the creative process at work? Then check out Quotidian Theatre’s “Ghost-Writer,” on stage at the Bethesda Writer’s Center through April 28.
A cast of 3 performs playwright Michael Hollinger’s piece, part mystery/part love story, set in 1919 in New York City. The plot focuses on the relationship between a famous novelist, Frank Woolsey (Steve LaRocque), and his typist Myra Babbage (Carol Spring) before Woolsey’s sudden death. When Myra takes it upon herself to complete Woolsey’s unfinished novel, the question becomes whether she is channeling Woolsey’s words or whether her own creative talents have sprung forth.
Directed by Laura Giannarelli, the slow-paced story is engaging when Spring interacts with LaRocque during flashback scenes when he was still living and dictating his words to her.
The play opens with Myra speaking to an unseen visitor, explaining how she had come to work for the writer and how her role evolved from being a mere typist to almost being able to finish Woolsey’s thoughts. When she remembers their relationship, it is during those times that the audience is able to clearly see the creative process at work.
As Woolsey paces back and forth, looking out his office window at the scenery below, his words flow forth rapidly as Myra’s hands fly over the typewriter keys. The pair sometimes argue over the proper use of punctuation and grammar, or how a scene should end. Over time, through a touch of their wrists, or as he bends over her shoulder to check what he has dictated, it is clear that a deeper relationship is growing between the two.
Their work is often interrupted by the sudden appearance of Woolsey’s wife, Vivian Woolsey (Stephanie Mumford) who suspects her husband of not being faithful, and slyly reminds Myra that she is not her husband’s first typist. The fact that Woolsey has discouraged Myra from the beginning to not have a private life so that she can be available to work long hours for him seems to give this some credence.
Yet, Myra, who does have a male interest who she sees at her weekly Thursday night dance class, seems to believe that she and Woolsey are soul mates, of sorts. One of the most lovely scenes in the play is she and Woolsey dancing a foxtrot in the office between dictation. They almost kiss, but Woolsey walks offstage, and apparently meets a sudden death. Myra insists later that he kissed her passionately.
After Woolsey’s death, people question what will happen to the book and whether it will be published as an unfinished novel. Myra’s love and loyalty shows as she continues to “take dictation,” noting that “All I know is, the words keep coming.” Soon, Woolsey’s wife accuses her of wanting to steal the work of her husband. The press sensationally questions whether Myra is taking dictation from a ghost.
In the end, whether channeling Woolsey from beyond or stepping into her own voice as she waits for the inspiration that will allow the words to be put to paper, Myra shows that the source of creative energy is unknowable.
For the production, John Decker’s set design deserves mention and Mumford’s costumes are absolutely lovely.