Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Theater review: Ghost-Writer at Circle Theatre
Find out what happens in a bizarre love triangle between a ghost, his wife, and his assistant.
FORT WORTH Sometimes, we may wonder what happens after we are gone. How will people remember us? Will our words and actions still be remembered? What happens to the people and relationships that we had while we were alive? These questions are explored in Ghost-Writer, currently being performed at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth. The show is billed as a mystery; however, I found Ghost-Writer to be an intriguing, captivating, witty and touching love story with elements of suspense and mystery.
As one patron commented as she was leaving after the show, "I was so entranced by the show I completely forgot to put on my glasses." This show will bring you into the world and the lives of these three characters. The performance lasts for just over an hour with no intermission. When the lights go down on the final scene, you may wonder how the time went by so quickly.
In Ghost-Writer, author Michael Hollinger tells the at times funny, witty and always passionate and poignant story of what happens to the words, memories and “what he would have said." When novelist Franklin Woolsey suddenly dies mid sentence while dictating to his long time typist Myra Babbage, the romantic novel detailing the relationship between the aging artist and his younger model seems destined to remain unfulfilled. That is until Myra begins channeling the words from the now deceased Franklin Woolsey, much to the consternation of Franklin’s widow. Vivian Woolsey claims that Myra is a fraud who is trying to blemish her husband’s legacy. Myra tries to convince her that Franklin is giving her the words to type for him in order to finish his last novel.
The scene opens on a stage that is well designed by Clare Floyd DeVries. The entire show takes place in the rented office space used by Franklin Woolsey as his private area to become inspired and work uninterrupted on his novels. The set is painted largely in shades of beige and brown. The color choices serve as a canvas in which the character of Franklin Woolsey, wearing a brown suit, can seem to fade in and out of the viewer’s attention, despite being physically present on stage throughout most of the show. Slightly up center stage is the main focal point of the stage, with a wooden desk and a working typewriter, an L.C. Smith no. 8 that was manufactured in 1919. The story of how this crucial property was obtained is of itself an interesting story and is detailed in the playbill’s director’s notes. It is largely at and around the typewriter where we experience the layers of relationship between Franklin, Myra and Vivian.
Other focal points on the stage include the window where Franklin Woolsey is introduced and ultimately dies, the bookshelf that contains an obligatory bust of William Shakespeare and a copy of the first novel published by Franklin. In a particularly telling scene between Myra and Vivian, Vivian hands the book to Myra and explains that the characters and events in the book are really about how Franklin and Vivian first met, though the settings and names were changed to make it more romantic. Other stage locations, such as the tea table and side chair also reflect the conflicts and camaraderie that develop between Franklin and Myra.
Properties Designer Meredith Hinton deserves a well-earned round of applause for the choice and placement of the properties for this show that include books with time period looking covers, a tea set and the noticeable antique phone and typewriter. As a member of the audience, I was curious about whether the antique typewriter actually worked. So, as Myra typed away on the machine, I looked to see if words were produced on the paper. From where I was sitting, it certainly seemed that she was producing typed words from the machine.
Robin Armstrong, director and costume designer, performs a remarkable feat in the design and use of the costumes, blocking and providing the vision and guidance for this production that so touchingly tells the story. The costume styling and colors, and the hairstyles and accessories worn by the characters are noticeably consistent with the time period portrayed in the show.
Sound and Lighting Designers David H.M. Lambert and John Leach, respectively, provide wonderful additions with light and sound changes that enhance the already remarkable moments in the show, such as when the lights fade in and out on Franklin Woolsey as he comes in and out of the story. The sound of rain used on stage almost made me want to look for my umbrella.
John S. Davies, as Franklin Woolsey, is on stage throughout most of the performance, only becoming animated when Myra is sharing memories of their direct interactions over the years of working together. Davies’ portrayal of Franklin is of a man that lives through his uses of words, punctuations and phrases to describe in detail the settings and the interactions of characters in the novels that he writes. Davis adroitly maneuvers his character from cerebral aloofness to the romantic “if only” concluding scene between Franklin and Myra.
Overall, I liked Davies’ portrayal of Franklin. Though at times Franklin came across as too facile and workmanlike, lacking in the energetic passion I would have preferred to see. However, this may have been a director’s choice instead of the actor’s choice. Watching this character made me wonder if the choice to play the character this way was to emphasize that Franklin lived his life through his words rather than really experiencing life.
A particularly engaging scene between Myra and Franklin includes a lively discussion in which Franklin is, as usual, dictating the words and desired punctuation for his current novel. As he is dictates, Myra is typing as per his instructions. Then, suddenly, she is no longer typing. Instead, she is focused on the document with a questioning look on her face. When Franklin demands that she continue a discussion ensues on which punctuation is more appropriate for the continuity of the story. This scene underscores the transition from employer and employee to the beginning of collaboration between the author and his typist. This is an example of the many subtle and sometimes not so subtle interactions that are often exchanged between Franklin and Myra, she generally being the more dominant character. I would like to have seen a more gradual and emotionally conflicted transition in this scene, as it creates the basis for their transition to their future relationship.
Lois Sonnier Hart, as Vivian Woolsey, consistently brings to life the conflicted emotions of a wife that supports and encourages her husband’s success while perhaps being envious at the same time of his literary success and his physical and emotional time away from her. The audience learns, through a scene between Myra and Vivian, that Vivian is herself a writer. In one scene, Vivian states to Myra that she writes poetry as it is shorter and takes less time. Hart shows us a woman that is at times possessive and always “correct” in her interactions with the other characters. Despite not being on stage as much as the other actors, when she is on stage, Hart is a force to be reckoned with. From the scene in which Vivian, unannounced, comes by the office to introduce herself to Myra and states that Myra appears to be a better typist but not as pretty as the last typist, and therefore may work out better, the audience is treated to the beginning of the many layers that Hart brings to this role. During the final scene between Myra and Vivian, Hart very believably presents a wife feeling abandoned and alone. As she is demanding, pleading and bargaining with Myra, the audience feels the emotional connections and conflicts between the characters.
Ghost-Writer is a story that is told through the perspective and memories of Myra. Emily Scott Banks, as Myra Babbage, brings this character and story vibrantly and emotionally alive. Banks captivates the audience’s attention from the moment that the initial scene opens. Through her acting choices and willingness to share those internal choices and emotions with the audience, Emily Scott Banks, as one patron remarked, “entrances” the audience from the opening through the closing scene where audiences may well have a tear in their eye. Throughout the performance, the audience experiences the same emotional and physical connection that Myra has with her story. Whether she is interacting with the unseen observer who is sent to see if she really does channel the words of Franklin, or with each of the other characters, we experience the real emotions of each memory and situation as relived by Myra and expressed by Banks.
The value of any performance is the ability of the production and performance crew to effectively tell that story. The production and performance crew at Circle Theatre tell a very good story with their production of Ghost-Writer. This show is well cast, with three actors that bring considerable individual talents that both work well when each character demands attention and work well together as an ensemble. Robin Armstrong brought many good choices as director, melding the acting talents and abilities of Davis, Hart and Banks and the production crew to bring a touching story to life. While I may not agree with every directing choice, such as underplaying Franklin to emphasize the stronger characters of Myra and Vivian as well as having most of the actors’ movement playing upstage, by and large, the director’s choices worked well for this show. The use of browns and beige as the color schemes of the set and the costumes is very clever, thereby allowing the talents and personalities of the characters to wax and wane and keeping focus on the characters, the words and the story.
I will admit to being pleasantly surprised by the script and staging of the final scene between Franklin ad Myra. This was a very effective and emotional choice that needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
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