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"I come, I sit, I wait for the words," says Myra with elegant simplicity in Michael Hollinger's fine new drama, Ghost-Writer. In hindsight, this is all we need to know.
Since she speaks to an unseen "debunker" hired by her late employer's suspicious wife, however, Myra clarifies her eerie situation: Novelist Franklin Woolsey (a fictional contemporary of Henry James) dictated his work to her while she typed. After his passing, she continues to take dictation. Does his apparition appear? No. Does she hear his voice? No. Do they converse? No.The words come.
"What is a ghost," she wonders, "but a vivid memory when we least expect it?"
Hollinger's intimate, powerful work — given a superb Arden Theatre Co. production by director Jim Christy — uses supernatural mystery to explore creative inspiration. Where do stories come from? Woolsey channels them from the broiling atmosphere, spinning rich description until the flow suddenly stops — whereupon he waits in silence for it to start again. The source of what Myra types is obviously Woolsey; for him, though, it's ... what? Anyone who's ever created anything — that is, everyone — recognizes something spiritual in this process.
As we mull this question, Myra's story — a continuous monologue illustrated by scenes — unfolds beautifully, with poetry and humor. Megan Bellwoar plays the withdrawn typist with quiet strength, becoming Woolsey's friend, confidant and collaborator. Douglas Rees' stuffy, stentorious Woolsey gradually emerges as lonely and needy. Their conversations about punctuation embrace two perfectionists' passion, but also prove a charming flirtation.
Wife Vivian, a force of nature played by Patricia Hodges, sweeps into his sanctuary to evaluate her latest competition, the typist who "spends more waking hours in my husband's company than I." Sympathy for her grows, however; she, too, wants to understand the mystery of her husband's creativity and how it continues after his death.
David Gordon's handsome set subtly emphasizes the characters' skewed perspectives, as does the trio of early communication devices — phonograph, telephone, typewriter — all seemingly miraculous conduits for human creativity. The biggest miracle, Ghost-Writer reveals, is how creativity allows us to connect with each other; like many ghost stories, Ghost-Writer is also a love story.