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a Play
by Michael Hollinger

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 4155

SHOWING : September 28, 2011 - October 30, 2011



A fastidious secretary types as the famous author dictates – or does he? But who is she conversing with and who’s doing the writing? A romantic mystery that’s clever, witty, thoughtful.

By the author of "Incorruptible," a Main Stage hit, and Alley Stage’s "Red Herring" and "An Empty Plate in the Café de Grande Boeuf."

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by Dedalus
Monday, November 7, 2011
Words and punctuation! ... Deconstructed to its basic elements, writing can be described as an arrangement of words and punctuation that more or less reflects an ever-changing definition of artistry and craft.

“Ghost-Writer” is about three people, a writer, a spouse, and a typist. It’s the typist’s story, it’s her voice that dominates the play – almost a monologue with a few carefully crafted interactions. It’s also about love and obsession and disappointment and grief. And, of course, how the words (and punctuation) arrange themselves on the typed page, arrange themselves in the characters’ voices. Exclamation Point!

And yet, there are disconnects at the center of the Theatre in the Square production of this piece (by venue favorite Michael Hollinger) that undercut my enjoyment of it, missed opportunities that made the central performance seem like, well, like a performance rather than like the recreation of a character. These disconnects made her story seem contrived, made her passion seem feigned, made her apotheosis of her idol seem banal.

Franklin Woolsey is a writer, a contemporary of Henry James. His typist (“amanuensis” to use Mr. Hollinger’s lyrical word) is Myra Babbage, a spinsterish woman who hangs onto his every word, and types his manuscripts as if her typewriter were a musical instrument. The third character is Woolsey’s wife, Vivian, not a little jealous of the time her husband spends in his office, not without a certain talent for words herself. When Franklin dies in mid-dictation, Myra goes into a spiral of grief. She can’t stop writing his words, even if those words are in her own head, are, in fact, her own words. Is she creating a new work “in the style of” Franklin Woolsey, or is she actually taking dictation “from beyond?”

One of the disconnects for me was the typing itself. I am of a generation that remembers manual typewriters, who got through college with one, who knows how they are supposed to sound. To me, it sounded as if Elisa Carlson (as Myra) were merely typing random keys, not actually typing anything of substance. There were no distinctive “clunks” indicating a shift key were being used, no softer “clacks” that usually accompanied the space bar. I can’t say whether she was actually typing words or not, but it sounded to me as if she weren’t. This gave a lie to the idea of the typewriter being her “instrument,” being an extension of her own mind.

The second disconnect were the words of Franklin Woolsey themselves. Far from being an example of early twentieth century literature, they seemed more an attempt at melodramatic romance, bodice-rippers if you will. To give Mr. Hollinger the benefit of the doubt, this was probably intentional, a way of using Woolsey’s works as a reflection of Myra’s feelings, a way of emphasizing the love of the words over the context of their arrangement. Indeed, at one particularly steamy encounter, Myra cannot help but add additional details that Woolsey reads (to himself) with relish and approval.

What does work in this play are the few scenes of interaction. Myra’s scenes with Woolsey (a just-bland-enough Peter Tamm) steam with subtext, burn with her unfulfilled passion and his cold remove. Her scenes with Vivian (Ellen McQueen, marvelous and smoldering) crackle with tension and jealousy. It is perhaps unfortunate that most of the play is Myra talking directly to us (“we” are given the role of a tabloid journalist interviewing Myra, hoping for a juicy tidbit of scandal or over-the-top eccentricity). Ms. Carlson is pleasant and personable, but her voice tended towards monotony, as if her love of words and language were confined to the written word rather than with the sound of language itself. Perhaps this was intentional – if so, it was one of those “clever-not-smart” ideas that try to make a thematic point at the expense of dramatic accessibility. In any case, though I found her grief in the final moments moving, I found too much of her earlier interactions dry and unconvincing.

What also works (or should have worked) was Hollinger’s love for the subtleties and nuance of language, of the interplay between words and punctuation, of how a suitably placed hyphen can refocus the reader’s attention or a suitable adjective can add just the right amount of color to fully realize an image or a moment. As a lover of writing myself, I couldn’t help but respond to this, to wallow in the aesthetic joy of it all.

In the final analysis, even though the supernatural element was underplayed, it was enough of a distraction (and was never fully addressed thematically) to be an irritation. Ms. Carlson’s performance left me wanting to like Myra more than I did. And that durned typewriter just sounded wrong.

I wanted to love this play, and leave with an exclamation point in my heart. Instead, I merely liked it, and left with an attenuated ellipsis in its place.

-- Brad Rudy (

Subtle, Not Spooky
by playgoer
Monday, October 31, 2011
Michael Hollinger's "Ghost-Writer" is not a spine-tingling ghost story, as its title might suggest, so its scheduling in the Hallowe'en season is a bit misleading. The situation is that of a famous author's typist carrying on the writing of the author's final novel following his death. She believes she is writing the words he conveys to her, but not in any ghostly fashion. This is not a standard ghost story, and the possible insanity of the typist is as likely as any supernatural explanation.

Marietta's Theatre in the Square is giving "Ghost-Writer" a fully professional production. The lighting design of Mary Parker, the set design of Dale Brubaker, the sound design of Thom Jenkins, the prop design of Lindsay Moore, the wig design of J. Montgomery Schuth, and the costume design of Linda Patterson are all elegant and focused. The same is true of the acting of Elisa Carlson (typist Myra Babbage), Peter Tamm (author Franklin Woolsey), and Ellen McQueen (Mrs. Woolsey). It's almost too professional. Jessica Phelps West has directed it within an inch of its life, placing a high gloss on every moment, resulting in a production that seems targeted at a larger venue than the Theatre in the Square auditorium.

Myra, the typist, starts the show with an extended monologue taking place in 1919. She is being observed by a professional skeptic, hired by the widowed Mrs. Woolsey to see if Myra is truly communing somehow with the spirit of Franklin Woolsey. The monologue is succeeded by a series of flashbacks, ranging from Myra's job interview to the final day of Franklin Woolsey's life. Woolsey and Myra remain in the same costumes throughout (a period-less brown suit for him; a tailored skirt and sailor-like blouse for her), so the only clue as to the time period of each flashback comes from the costumes of Mrs. Woolsey, which range from a Gibson Girl silhouette at the start to the more shapeless silhouettes of early 20th century dresses. Only a person with specific knowledge of female fashion would be able to put dates to the flashbacks. Nevertheless, Mrs. Woolsey's costumes are a joy to behold (and Myra's is also stylistic perfection).

Michael Hollinger's play neatly encapsulates the growing trust between author and amanuensis, showing the typist sometimes outstripping the author. It's a pleasant, rather literary journey he takes the audience on, allowing the audience (like the skeptic observer) to make up their own minds about the trustworthiness of Myra. Some viewers will delight in the story; others will find it mildly pleasurable. I enjoyed it much more than the person next to me. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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