When “Ghost-Writer” is described as a haunting love story, the term has a double entendre: it plays emotionally moving but also has a touch – perhaps – of the supernatural.
Michael Hollinger’s play, next on stage at Quotidian Theatre Company, is set in 1919 New York. When novelist Franklin Woolsey (portrayed by Steve LaRocque) dies mid-sentence, his typist, Myra (Carol Spring), continues to take dictation. Attacked by skeptics, the press and Woolsey’s jealous widow (Stephanie Mumford), Myra sets out to prove she’s no mere forger. But is she trying to steal Woolsey’s legacy since she cannot have his love, or does she really possess a gift?
“I read ‘Ghost-Writer’ for the first time last year and was taken with it immediately,” said Stephanie Mumford, who co-founded the theater with Jack Sbarbori. “It’s a perfect play for Quotidian to stage, since it’s subtly written and focuses on the drama in everyday life.”
Mumford said she was also impressed with the playwright’s love for and use of beautiful language and his use of the plot, “which revolves around the intellectual chemistry between two like-minds kindred spirits or seemed so unique and appealing to me.”
Laura Giannarelli, a founding member of the Washington Stage Guild (WSG), is directing what she called a “wonderful jewel of a play.” This is her third time directing at Quotidian.
What drew her to “Ghost-Writer?”
“I have always loved Michael Hollinger’s plays, and have performed in a number of them at WSG,” she said. “What I love about ‘Ghost-Writer’ is how it explores the writer’s art, the creative process, happens before our eyes. In addition, the play is a glimpse into the workings of memory and relationships.”
Among Hollinger’s other full-length plays are “A Wonderful Noise,” a musical; “Tiny Island” and a new adaptation of “Cyrano.” Spring, who trained at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts and making her Quotidian Theatre debut ,was also drawn by Hollinger’s writing and storytelling.
“I was drawn to this play by the intriguing themes and understated writing,” she said. “Beyond being a love story between the characters, it is a love story about the mystery of writing: where do the words come from? I love that the play leaves it up to the audience to decide what the truth is…and whether truth is important.”
Throughout the play, a question remains: Is Myra, in fact, taking dictation from a ghost – or is she really a writer in her own right – whether she admits it to herself or not? The greatest challenge in playing Myra, Springs said, is that her primary scene partner is unseen.
“So, I have to really work my imagination to keep him vivid for myself and to create authentic reactions to him,” Spring said. “My greatest satisfaction is getting to be essentially the narrator of the story, telling the story from Myra’s point of view, and letting memories and flashbacks pull me into interactions with the other characters.”
Another underlying question, both director and actor agree, is what the source of creativity is and whether it is ever knowable.
Giannarelli added: “Anyone who has ever wondered how a writer writes or contemplated the nature of memory, will enjoy ‘Ghost-Writer.’”
There will be a special talkback with playwright Michael Hollinger on April 14. He will be joined by his wife, Megan Bellwoar, who was the original Myra when “Ghost-Writer” premiered at The Arden Theatre.
Ghost-Writer runs April 5-28, with all performances taking place at the Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda. For reservation information, call or email: 301-816-1023 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Patrons 30 years of age and under may attend all Friday performances for $15 using the 30 and under price category.