A selective guide to arts commentaries in print and websites elsewhere.
Introduction to Broad Street Review, plus biographies and contact points for our editors and contributors.
See a list of coming appearances by BSR's writers.
Hollinger’s ‘Ghost-Writer’ at the Arden (1st review)BY: Jane Biberman 09.14.2010
Michael Hollinger’s drama about a novelist, his typist and his wife creates characters with whom we can empathize, and whose fates we actually care about.
Ghost-Writer. By Michael Hollinger; directed by James J. Christy. Through November 7, 2010 at Arden Theatre Co.’s Arcadia Stage, 40 N. Second St. (215) 922-1122 or www.ardentheatre.org.
The music of the typewriterJANE BIBERMAN
The key to this intriguing little drama (which I saw in a preview performance) is the hyphen: the hyphen in the title as well as the hyphen between “gentleman-farmer,” which is the subject of a pivotal sentence in Michael Hollinger’s new 90-minute play. Hollinger, one of the Arden’s most produced playwrights, wrote the popular Opus, which has been performed around the country, as well as the cleverly named An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf.
Anyone who appreciates word play, puns, double-entendres and punctuation, in particular, will appreciate the wit of Ghost-Writer (not to be confused with the Polanski film of the same name—without the hyphen). Although the play and the film have little in common, they do share a preoccupation with the nature of the ghost writer.
Hollinger’s story revolves around an author, one Franklin Woolsey, who aspires to be as great a novelist as his peer, Henry James; Woolsey’s typist, Myra Babbage, who strives to be his muse, at the very least; and Woolsey’s wife, Vivian, who also covets the role of muse and who would like to make a name for herself as a writer. All these aspirations conspire to shape the plot.
Those in the audience old enough to remember the manual typewriter will appreciate the rhythmic music that the keys make. It’s uncanny how much meaning the sound of the keys conveys as Myra (played by the superb actress Megan Bellwoar) types away. She plays her machine as another might play a piano: passionately, evocatively, touching each key precisely. When Bellwoar hits a period, it’s more than a full stop; it’s a major character. So is the Victrola (“His Master’s Voice”), which enjoys an essential role in a well-crafted play whose every word counts.
I happened to attend Ghost-Writer a few hours after seeing the ridiculous film Cairo Time, whose insultingly banal screenplay turns the great actress Patricia Clarkson into nothing more than a vapid model. So it was especially refreshing to see an original play with thought-provoking ideas presented with vigor by a trio of actors who give nuanced performances.
The most interesting character is Myra, whose personality and character are gradually revealed. The jealous wife, as played by Patricia Hodges, is no empty-headed society matron but a woman of intelligence whose ideas about authorship and the creative process lend substance to the play.
Douglas Rees is rather bland as Mr. Woolsey. Is that his portrayal or the point? Question mark. Rees speaks quietly and infrequently except when dictating his novel. But what kind of novel is he writing? The title of one of his previous best-sellers would seem to indicate that he pens popular romances.
Listen carefully as Woolsey dictates to his amanuensis. Do his words contain substance? Does the plot parallel the drama unfolding onstage? Is Myra typing exactly what she hears? And whose story is it, anyway?
What a treat to go to the theater and not have everything spelled out— pun intended. Ghost-Writer isn’t simply appealing because of its clever dialogue, but because Hollinger creates characters with whom we can empathize, and whose fates we actually care about. Exclamation point.♦
Respond to this Article