Ghost-Writer @ International City Theatre

Cheryl David, Leland Crooke and Paige Lindsey White.
(Courtesy of Suzanne Mapes)

“Ghost-Writer” begins as a lissome and poetical probing into the two great mysteries of love and creativity; and while playwright Michael Hollinger is prudent enough not to load this delicately crafted work with bombastic pronouncements on either subject, he is gifted enough to illustrate how the pair at times may merge.

It is the turn of the century, before “love” and “creativity” were commercialized into the doppelgangers that were then wired and broadcast into the sanctuary of the American home, mutating the family living room into a marketplace and a “man’s castle” into a mini-mall. That this transformation has commenced is symbolized by the presence of two modern wonders on stage – the telephone and the typewriter.

Franklin Woolsey (Leland Crooke) is an established author whose recent works have not quite satisfied either the writer or his reading public. Myra Babbage, (Paige Lindsey White) trained at a professional typing school, has been employed to sit at the typewriter in anticipation of whatever inspiration Woolsey can manage to draw forth as he paces the confines of the small room he’s taken in an effort to finish a difficult novel. An effort none the easier due to his wife’s (Cheryl David) incessant phone calls.

A relationship forms between Myra and Franklin, one which the morality of the day stifles any expression of – other than through Myra’s throbbing keystrokes. Unfortunately, Franklin’s sudden death occurs when their love affair and his last masterpiece are each in unfinished states. After the passing of some months, Myra has agreed to meet with a “professional skeptic” and explain why she has not yet provided either the widow or Franklin’s former publisher with the “unfinished” manuscript.

Mister Hollinger’s pithy and affecting play would not benefit from a mome’s heavy handed critique. Nor would it be likely to survive a heavy handed staging. Fortunately at Long Beach’s International City Theatre it has found an intelligent and deftly crafted staging in a venue whose intimacy makes it ideal for its production. ICT is the perfect environment to experience this play in. Produced in some cavernous theatre, the graceful detailing of the piece would be smothered by space.

Aided and abetted by an excellent production team (Staci Walters set, Donna Ruzika lights, and Kim DeShazo costumes) director Caryn Desai deftly reveals the hidden lushness woven within the play, where a lesser director, confronted by the slightness of the piece, would have crushed it beneath their own insecurities.

Leland Crooke, an actor one always wants to see more of, has been a favorite of this reviewer since his days at the White Fire Theater. Both he and Cheryl David excel as the author and his wife.

Nevertheless “Ghost-Writer” comes near to being a single monologue by Myra. It is a demanding and challenging role which Paige Lindsey White makes work on every single level needed, and then a couple.

All in all, “Ghost-Writer” is thoroughly engaging and terribly entertaining. Perhaps, despite the protestation of the romantics, love isn’t eternal after all. But dictation is another matter entirely.