MetroStage's final play of the 2012-2013 season is a witty, wry, enigmatic comedy by Michael Hollinger that muses on the process of writing, from the inception of idea to the choice of punctuation. A light-hearted homage to the novelist Henry James and his relationship with his typist, Theodora Bosanquet, Hollinger's "Ghost-Writer" is about a fictional writer, Franklin Woolsey (Paul Morella) who dies, but after his death, his typist, Myra Babbage (Susan Lynskey), continues to take dictation, writing in Woolsey's voice and style, to the confusion of all who knew the writer, particularly Woolsey's widow, Vivian (Helen Hedman).
The play, which takes place in 1919, begins with Myra recalling how her employer used to give her dictation as he stared out the window at the Queensboro Bridge. She recounts his various moods and silences and shows how she learned to accompany the writer on the typewriter as precisely as a pianist would accompany a singer. Theirs is a love story of the most unconventional, rarefied kind.
Much of the appeal of "Ghost-Writer" comes from the way it plays with notions of time. After establishing how she normally worked with the writer, Myra loops back to the first day she came to "audition" for him, typing his absurdly long, fast dictation. At the beginning of the play, Woolsey has a telephone. Not until midway through the play do we learn how Vivian made him get a telephone.
The cast at MetroStage is first-rate. Lynskey is generally prissy and prim as Myra, who insists that the writer follow her lead when it comes to punctuation; he can control the ideas. Yet when she is writing her own story, she becomes a totally different character, passionate and authoritative.
|» Where: MetroStage, 1201 North Royal St., Alexandria|
|» When: Through June 2|
|» Info: $48 to $55; 800-494-8497; metrostage.org|
Morella is equally engaging in a split role: controlled and remote in the first part of the play; open and engaged when he becomes a character in the world Myra imagines. Hedman plays Vivian as an elegant woman -- superficial, vain and spectacularly jealous.
John Vreeke keeps the action moving swiftly and intelligently on Jane Fink's clean set, which shows the writer's unadorned study with the typist's desk downstage, a comfortable armchair, a freestanding Victrola and two large windows looking out at the looming Queensboro Bridge.
Ivania Stack's costumes include a three-piece suit for the writer, luxurious silk dresses for his wife and a plain white cotton blouse and long brown skirt for the typist. Sound designer Robert Garner has created marvelous rolling thunder to accompany a threatening storm throughout the play.
"Ghost-Writer" is a piquant, whimsical gem and MetroStage has given it all the polish such a jewel deserves.