When Michael Hollinger’s “Ghost-Writer” opens, Myra Babbage, superbly played by Paige Lindsey White, is at the typewriter pounding out a tome as she conducts an interview with an unseen reporter.
She’s being questioned about having completed a book by acclaimed novelist Franklin Woolsey who died mid-sentence while dictating his last effort. A dutiful secretary who feels she understands what Woolsey would have written had he not died, Babbage continued the book sending each chapter to the publisher under her late employer’s name. Woolsey is firmly played by Leland Crooke.
For years, Babbage was Woolsey’s “typewriter girl,” who is not only the play’s focus, but also its principal narrator. During her employ, which began in 1919 in New York, their relationship went from strictly employer/employee to blossoming to the point of them literally finishing each other’s sentences. It ultimately became intimately more than either one of them had expected.
In an attempt to plead her case to the interviewer, Babbage’s argument is that Woolsey’s spirit dictated the remaining chapters of the book to her. It’s something his wife, Vivian, aptly played by Cheryl David, disagrees with – quite strongly. .
Soon the question becomes whether Babbage is disturbed, a fraud, a forger or actually an attentive assistant who paid attention to her employer’s style and just happens to also have a literary gift. Is Woolsey’s ghost just a figment of Babbage’s imagination?
Hollinger (Opus, An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf, Red Herring, Tiny Island, Tooth and Claw and Incorruptible) leaves that decision to the audience.
White gives an intense, focused portrayal of Babbage. She essentially gives a 90-minute monologue as she recalls her years working for Hollinger and interacting with his wife, Vivian, who, herself, longs to be a writer.
Hollinger’s script is fascinating and slow-moving, yet the pace works for both the time and the material.
“Ghost-Writer” is a slow-burning waltz into a story of romance, dedication, deception, intrigue and more.
Director caryn desai has assembled a first rate cast to deliver Hollinger’s emotional and character driven piece.
She makes great use of the stage and gives each character enough space to come into their own. For instance, the little nuances White gives Babbage speak volumes, be it a head turn here, or a wicked, disapproving stare there. The material is lacks action, yet through movement, light, wardrobe and cadence, remains full of life.
White, who spends most of her time seated in front of an old-fashioned typewriter – looking front and center as she addresses the interviewer – is exceptional and mesmerizing in the role of Babbage. She vacillates between humor and drama, all the while drawing the audience in with her naivete and then her sophistication.
Crooke is distant and reserved as the sturdy Woolsey, while David shines in her role as the uppercrust, yet jealous wife.
This production comes together with an effective set design (Staci Walters) and sound design (Dave Mickey), emotional lighting (Donna Ruzika) and appropriate costume design (Kim DeShazo).
“Ghost-Writer,” written by Michael Hollinger, directed and produced by caryn desai, stars Paige Lindsey White, Leland Crooke and Cheryl David.
“Ghost-Writer,” International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, CA; Thur. -Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m.; through Sept. 16; $37-$44; (562) 436-4610 or www.InternationalCityTheatre.org
On the Donloe Scale, D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (OK) and E (excellent), “Ghost-Writer” gets an E (excellent).