Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Florida Stage: Ghost-Writer (4 reviews)

Florida Stage opened the regional premiere of Michael Hollinger's Ghost Rider on March 4, 2011.
A ghost story of literary proportions from the award-winning author of Opus. In this beautiful and evocative play, set in early 20th century New York, tragedy intercedes for a novelist before he can finish dictating his masterwork to his devoted secretary. Yet, somehow, she completes the story on her own in a voice that is unmistakably his. Or is it? An enormously moving tale of the power of love and literature. Delightfully rich and thoroughly theatrical.
Louis Tyrell directed a cast that featured J. Fred Shiffman, Kate Eastwood Norris, and Lourelene Snedeker.

Jan Sjostrom reviewed for The Palm Beach Daily News:
At its best, theater is a kind of magic, and there’s never been a more magical production at Florida Stage than Michael Hollinger’s Ghost-Writer... The play is being given a deservedly flawless production under the direction of producing director Louis Tyrrell.
Kate Eastwood Norris delivers an incandescent performance as Myra — proud, precise and determined.

J. Fred Shiffman’s formal Woolsey betrays his affection for his secretary in micro-gestures, such as a lingering touch on her forearm and oblique declarations of affection through his characters.

Lourelene Snedeker, splendidly arrayed in Erin Amico’s period dresses and engulfing hats, blazes as the unloved Mrs. Woolsey. She sweeps into the room, imperiously demanding her husband’s attention, yet all but splinters when she asks Myra whether her dead husband ever speaks of her.
Skip Sheffield reviewed for the Boca Tribune:
Ghost Writer is very wordy, literate, and knowledgeable about the mechanics of writing.  Playwright Michael Hollinger makes his living performing what is impossible for most people: creating and imaginary world and populating it with real and believable characters.
...There is no sex, no smoking gun, virtually no action.  Everything is internal, or implied or inferred.  There is a gorgeous, clever set by Kent Goetz, but precious little else going on.
The truth of the matter is that the act of writing...is not a spectator sport...
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Certainly, building a play around a writer’s life is a perfectly valid subject for drama or comedy (think anything from Long Day’s Journey into Night to Deathtrap). But crafting an engaging play that centers on the writing process? Ghost-Writer unintentionally suggests that approach is far harder to pull off.
Norris plays Myra with a tightly controlled intensity, the propriety and repression proper for a single woman of her day who spends so many hours with a married older man, her energy the only thing that pulls Ghost-Writer back from the brink of deadly dullness. Shiffman’s Woolsey would be no one’s idea of a literary lion, and Snedeker’s beautifully attired Vivian (the costumes are by Erin Amico) comes off as a jealous busybody rather than a wife with good reason to worry.

Observing this Hollinger-invented novelist and his amanuensis as they write is a bit more interesting than watching paint dry. But not by much.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for South Florida Theater Review:
Ghost-Writer is what would result if Henry James had written an episode of the Twilight Zone after he had read one too many Victorian romances. This device actually works in the written script and might in another production, but it’s only half-successful under Louis Tyrrell’s direction.
Florida Stage is virtually incapable of producing subpar work, but developing new works is bound to result in some productions that are less compelling than others. This play is intriguing, even thought-provoking, but there’s nothing compelling or enthralling on stage other than the ideas in Hollinger’s script. The sexual chemistry that is essential between the two main characters, repressed as they might be, is sadly nonexistent.
The main weakness is Shiffman’s creation under Tyrrell’s direction. While his performance is technically proficient, his Woolsey is not a repressed spirit yearning to break free, but instead a gray, drab, humorless man.

This gives Myra little to credibly pursue as an object of desire, little emotional heft for Norris to play off of and very little to drive the second half of the play. We need a Rex Harrison, a Clifton Webb, a Vincent Price in his early career. Other than Woolsey touching Myra’s bare forearm a couple of times as she types and an intentionally awkward dance lesson, we don’t see much going on between them. What is left on stage – and this was no one’s aim – is a watered down D.H. Lawrence tale of banked passion and a tragically missed opportunity, a well-written Harlequin romance.

Norris’s Myra is pleasant enough company for the 80-minute play and she delivers droll witticisms with a hint of playfulness.
The always dependable Snedeker isn’t called on to do much. But she has the best moment in the script which she executes perfectly, although Tyrrell’s pacing doesn’t even allow it a moment to sink in...
Florida Stage  presents Ghost-Writer at The Rinker Playhouse through April 3, 2011.

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