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Dead writer lives on at Clague Playhouse stage

One thing I like a lot about Clague Playhouse is that each season presents one or two plays that are not seen anywhere else in the area. Such is the case with “Ghost-Writer.”

The play is an oddity. It is a completely old-fashioned play, written a few years ago. It is intriguing because it has a surface tension, and a subtext, that is worthy of speculation. With a tight cast of three contained in a claustrophobic environment, it is a perfect choice for Clague Playhouse.

Prolific novelist Franklin Woolsey creates his work by dictating to a secretary, who types on a Royal typewriter as fast as he can speak. It is 1919 in New York City. Young people may be completely perplexed about the setup and situation here. They’ll be amazed at the “cool technology” that puts text on paper immediately. Imagine that! A perfectionist with a touch of OCD, Woolsey includes verbal punctuation direction as he dictates his novels. The novels’ plots seem to involve suggestions of torrid passion between the characters.

The professional relationship between Woolsey and secretary Myra appears on the surface, but underneath is a romance. Actually it is more of a “desire” than a romance, since Woolsey’s wife Vivian appears often enough to throw water on any amorous fire that might be smoldering.

Another complication is that Franklin is dead, but Myra continues on, maybe channeling the deceased, or maybe keeping his legacy alive because she knows him so well. There is enough ambiguity here to speculate as the play continues. Early on, the audience gets the image of the old RCA Victor logo of the dog with cocked head, listening to “his master’s voice” on a Victrola. The imagery is repeated later.

“Ghost-Writer” is a play of words. If you’re an “old school” grammar type, you’ll enjoy hearing Lou Will as Victor insert punctuation in his dictation flow, and the frequent discussions between Myra, played by Laura Starnik, about punctuation correctness. One of those discussions is whether or not “ghost-writer” should have a hyphen.

On stage throughout the play’s intermissionless 90 minutes, Starnik is most responsible for communicating to the audience both the obvious and the hidden meanings of the show. Always the professional, she is the center of our attention. As Franklin, Clague regular Lou Will looks and sounds the part, but does not suggest that any of his hormones are active for secretary Myra – a shame, because this is central to the play. At the plays’ end, Starnik’s Myra has deep-felt, long-repressed emotions that burst to the surface, but in this production, they seem to be one-sided.

Completing the cast is Meg Parish as wife Vivian. A humorless Victorian of faded elegance, Parish’s Vivian also looks great in the period costumes.

I attended a preview performance of “Ghost-Writer” through the courtesy of director Anne McEvoy. Her sparse movement helps to focus attention on the dialogue and subtext of the show. She enlivens the scenes of dictation between Franklin and Myra, and they become easy to focus on. It’s the other scenes of the show, however, that contain the most intriguing points to consider.

“Ghost-Writer” runs weekends through Feb. 2 at Clague Playhouse.

 

 

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