Review by Nan Lincoln
MOUNT DESERT — It’s what every writer longs for — a muse, or even a ghostly presence that will dictate inspired prose to the subconscious making the fingertips fly across the keyboard transforming blank pages into a great book or story.
In Michael Hollinger’s play “Ghost-Writer,” purported to be based on the relationship between Henry James and his secretary Theodora,
which is now playing at Acadia Repertory Theatre in Somesville,
devoted secretary Myra Babbage (Julie Ann Nevill) is convinced her late boss, the renowned novelist Franklin Woolsey (Bob Smith), who has recently died, is doing just that.
She is convinced he has returned from the dead to complete the novel he was working on when he suddenly collapsed in the office, he shared with her for many years.
When we first meet Myra, she is explaining to some unseen investigator how Woolsey has been invisibly guiding her hands to type out his words. In doing so she shows us glimpses of their relationship — both professional and personal — from the day he hired her to the day he died.
Audiences should not expect a lot of action in this play other than what is contained in the lovely phrases Woolsey dictates to Myra, nor much excitement, unless one considers a heated and funny argument on the use of semi-colons and apostrophes a thrill.
Woolsey’s wraith can be seen standing unobtrusively in the corner until Myra animates him with her memories, but one begins to suspect that her imagination is busy at work here on several fronts.
Apparently, there has been some publicity about these “visitations” from the great man, which has rather charmed the early 20th century public with its enthusiasm for spiritualism. Woolsey’s wife Vivian (Sarah Zinsser), however, is not at all charmed.
Although there is never a true jealous confrontation between Myra and Vivian, who tends to pop in or call the office frequently, it is clear she envious of the relationship her husband had with his secretary, and understandably exasperated that it seems to be continuing even after his death.
In one of the best scenes in the play, Vivian accuses of Myra of actually being a writer; a charge the secretary vehemently resists, preferring to believe she and her employer are still connected by his words.
On opening night, last Thursday, the pace of the snappy dialogue could have used a bit more, well, snap, and the sexual tension between Myra and her boss a little more sizzle. Woolsey’s declaration of love seemed more literary than corporeal, making the semi-colon debate the most charged interlude between the two.
This may well have been what director PeggyRae Johnson had in mind — making us wonder if this romantic moment, too, springs from Myra’s imagination and longing rather than memory.
In any case it is refreshing to see a play about three decorous, smart people trying to follow their better angels, for the sake of each other and for the sake of art.
Jaylene Roths’ costumes are terrific especially the way she matched the palate and sharpness of Woolsey and Myra’s suits, which managed to be both severe and flattering. W. Preston Krenicki’s set, also both utilitarian and handsome was excellent as well.
“Ghost Writer” runs through Saturday July 6 at 8:15 p.m. with a closing matinee Sunday, July 7. Contact 244-7260 or [email protected]