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Ghost-Writer at MetroStage

Jordan Wright
April 29, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times

Susan Lynskey and Paul Morella - Photo credit Christopher Banks

Susan Lynskey and Paul Morella – Photo credit Christopher Banks

As MetroStage celebrates receiving three Helen Hayes Awards for Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, we are treated to another brilliant show by Producing Artistic Director, Carolyn Griffin, who has spent the last seven years searching for the perfect vehicle for actress, Susan Lynsky.  At last she appears to have found it in Ghost-Writer.  She chose well.  As the last production for the current season and a Washington, DC premiere of the play, it’s a spellbinding piece for the three-actor cast – most especially for its leading lady.

Franklin Woolsey (Paul Morella) is a renown novelist married to a proper Victorian lady (Helen Hedman).  Moving in the rarified circles of aristocratic Old New York, he draws from its foibles like a hawk preying on a field mouse.  Playwright, Michael Hollinger was inspired by Henry James’ relationship to his real-life secretary, Theodora Bosanquet, and used it as a vehicle to inform the background for a play that examines the art and act of writing.

Helen Hedman -Photo credit : Christopher Banks

Helen Hedman -Photo credit : Christopher Banks

Woolsey’s newly schooled, but oh-so-clever typist, Myra Babbage, is a hunter of sorts too – one who dallies with her target while keeping him enthralled.  The play is set in 1919, the age of women’s advancement in the workplace and the beginning of their post-war freedoms.  The 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was then reaching the House floor for approval and women were experiencing a newly achieved independence.  It is no coincidence that Hollinger sets the play in this power-shifting moment.

Miss Myra Babbage is a woman with ideas about writing and editing and she isn’t afraid of appearing presumptuous in order to express herself.  She jousts with the author and his obsession with commas and dashes, periods and semicolons until he begins to trust her judgment and with it her way of turning a phrase when she sometimes finishes his sentences.  (A curious clue in the punctuation of the play’s title is revealed at the outset and explains his typist’s successful insinuation into his writerly sphere.)

We meet the duo in Woolsey’s study.  The décor is the austere Mission style befitting a serious writer of the late Victorian period.  A Royal typewriter is front and center with the primly dressed Miss Babbage at its helm.  She has been recently hired as Woolsey’s amanuensis, a taker of dictation, her fingers poised to record his every word.  He soon grows addicted to her presence and the staccato sound of her typing and cannot think clearly when she pauses awaiting his next dictation.  She devises a phrase she types over and over again until he is able to retrace his thoughts.  “Don’t tell me what it is,” he insists.  And her secret becomes her power.

“The waiting is part of the work,” she explains, “We waited together.”  Thus begins their long and very close collaboration as Myra, addressing the audience as if we were her inquisitors, explains how, after Woolsey’s death mid-novel, she is able to complete his work by divining his words.  “No one else has an intimate relationship with his style,” she insists, emboldened by their relationship and not wanting to abandon the book to Vivian nor his publishers’ inquiries.

From time to time, Myra and Franklin are visited in his study by his jealous wife, Vivian.  Can you blame her?  When the socialite tries to replace Myra by learning to type, a hilarious scene ensues and Hedman is at her best as the dithering pupil of the Myra the Taskmistress.

The piece is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek comical and its trio of actors superbly in synch.  But it is Susan Lynskey as the stalwart heroine who captivates.  Lynskey is magnetic, giving an enthralling portrait of a young woman gaining her footing in that brave new era, confident and well educated, polite yet outspoken, secure in her expertise, and unafraid to stand up to anyone.  She is utterly captivating in the role and worth Ms. Griffin’s wait.

Highly recommended.

At MetroStage through June 2nd – 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit

Susan Lynskey, Helen Hedman and Paul Morella -  Photo credit Christopher Banks

Susan Lynskey, Helen Hedman and Paul Morella – Photo credit Christopher Banks

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