BWW Review: Quotidian Theatre Company's GHOST-WRITER at the Bethesda Writer's Center
Quotidian Theatre Company's Ghost-Writer is a story about writing. As the central character, Myra, puts it, "Waiting is part of the work." Myra Babbage (Carol Spring), a typist, is hired by Frank Woolsey (Steve LaRocque), a writer, to help him dictate his novels. Vivian Woolsey (Stephanie Mumford), Frank's wife, is suspicious of Myra and tries to keep a close eye on her and Mr. Woolsey. When an unfortunate event happens to Mr. Woolsey, Myra picks up the pieces of his unfinished novel, much to the displeasure of Ms. Woolsey. Under all the pressure of finishing the novel, Myra finds herself having to explain her circumstances to an inquisitive visitor. Quotidian Theatre Company (QTC)'s Ghost-Writer, written by Michael Hollinger and directed by Laura Giannarelli, is a slow-paced, yet unexpected "love" story with a layer of mystery.
Throughout much of the play, Spring's Myra explains to her mysterious visitor her process and how she became a "typist" for Mr. Woolsey. The challenge of these solo scenes is that Spring doesn't interact with anyone on stage. Spring attempts to meet this challenge but her acting is much stronger in scenes in which she is paired with either LaRocque, Mumford, or both. Spring and LaRocque are engaging to watch as they playfully banter about punctuation and grammar. Mumford and Spring's interactions together are joyfully terse and sharp as their feud develops over time. A particularly delightful scene depicting this tension involves Mumford's Vivian trying to learn how to be a typist from Spring's Myra. Much like Myra's writing process of "waiting," it takes a while for it to become apparent that Ghost-Writer is a love story between LaRocque and Myra. This love story certainly isn't a hot flame, but a slow burning candle. In true 1919 fashion, the subtle hints like Mr. Woosley touching Myra's wrist or Myra teaching a two-footed Mr. Woolsey to dance reveals their fondness for each other. In the era of #MeToo, Myra and Mr. Woolsey's relationship doesn't seem natural, but forced due to her being an employee and him being the employer. After all, Ms. Woosley mentions to Myra that she isn't his first typist, and discourages her from pursuing relationships in her private life.
While the "love" story gradually evolves, the mystery of whether or not Myra is channeling Mr. Woolsey's style herself or through paranormal activity continues to be a question. Spring channels the suspense with the contrast between Myra's anxiety and briskness versus her stillness as she waits for inspiration to come. Hollinger's script paints Myra in the light of an unreliable narrator. Thus, as the play progresses, it becomes hard to tell the truth behind Myra's writing process. However, QTC's production of Ghost-Writer doesn't allow the audience to be able to draw their own conclusions. Instead, there are certain lighting and sound cues which reinforce tropes that lead in one particular direction. These cues break the suspension of disbelief.
Despite certain production aspects which crack the suspension of disbelief, the set and props in Ghost-Writer are well crafted. The typewriter, which is the main centerpiece of the set, is real and functional. Another prop, a gramophone, doesn't work, but fits in well with the rest of the set. The set, designed by John Decker, fits the description of the "an austerely furnished room" from the drawn lace curtains to the dark hardwood furniture.
Quotidian Theatre Company's Ghost-Writer is not a story for everyone - especially those who wish that the script would be a bit more forward-thinking with its storytelling.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
GHOST-WRITER runs at the Bethesda Writer's Center - 4508 Walsh Street Bethesda, Maryland - through April 28, 2019.