According to novelist Franklin Woolsey (Dennis Parlato), the hyphen in “gentleman-farmer” suggests a dual nature. That points to the hyphenated title of Michael Hollinger’s new play, Ghost-Writer, onstage at Ensemble Theatre, and suggests that the tale is divided between a ghost and a writer. Woolsey, the deliberate, remote writer, is more catalyst than character in this play: He might be haunting his one-time “typewriter girl,” Myra Babbage (Annie Fitzpatrick), the play’s focal point and principal narrator. Following Woolsey’s death in 1919, she continues work on his final novel — much to the dismay of his overbearing, jealous wife Vivian (Lourelene Snedeker) — with words that spring from some indistinct source. Is it Woolsey’s ghost or Myra’s fervid imagination, after 20 years of working with him, intimately taking his dictation?
Hollinger’s script, essentially a monologue by Myra recalling scenes from her work with Woolsey and interactions with imperious Vivian, can be slow-moving, despite Fitzpatrick’s luminous characterization.
Myra must wait to hear the words before she types, so there are frequent pauses in the 80-minute play. Whether it’s Woolsey’s voice from beyond or Myra’s subconscious construction of words resembling those he dictated to her for years, they come in fits and starts. In the meantime, we delve into her psyche as she describes her passion and understanding for this man and learns the art of writing from her labors at the typewriter, the play’s fourth character. The rhythm of keys on a platen become Woolsey’s prompt as much as the jangling telephone Vivian has installed in his rented room is a jarring reminder of her demand for attention. It’s a fascinating three-cornered love affair.
Hollinger’s Opus was a hit for ETC in 2007; Ghost-Writer recently
won a Barrymore Award as the best new play in Philadelphia. It’s as
much a meditation for writers as for theater lovers, but both should
enjoy this thoughtful work.
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