Theater 11’s The Ghost Writer
Not ready to hang up Halloween? Then Theater 11 has just the treat for you this Friday, All Saints Day and Saturday, All Souls Day). It’s a spirited comedy featuring a celebrity ghost, Shakespeare.
Do not, however, confuse local author Stephen Evans’ The Ghost Writer with the 2010 Polanski film, Michael Hollinger’s dramatic play or the 1984 American Playhouse miniseries. This Ghost Writer has more in common with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit and with a Twilight Zone episode in which zany confusion ensues when a modern failure channels the Bard.
The show debuted in 1990 with The Annapolis Theater Project, a prior incarnation of Theater 11. Michael Gilles, a founder of both groups, likes the play so well that he has now directed it twice. In the playbill, he promises laughs and crazy surprises from talented actors who are funny and sincere, and he’s not lying. Recent Colonial Players’ veterans Jason Vellon and Jeffery Miller (Bell Book and Candle castmates) and Duncan Hood (Scrooge in A Christmas Carol) deliver outstanding comedic performances playing opposite Kate Wheeler’s (Jake’s Women) straight woman.
Following his third consecutive flop, Michael (Vellon), a gifted playwright who never reached his potential, is on the brink of quitting the business and moving to L.A. with his agent/girlfriend Kate (Wheeler). But there’s something in the air besides the stench of failure. While commiserating with his mentor, Harry (Miller), an unscrupulous producer, Michael channels Shakespeare. So flowery and persuasive is Michael’s new language that Harry urges him to attempt one last challenge: to write a “lost” Shakespeare script and watch the cash flow in. Against his and Kate’s better judgment, Michael acquiesces when he realizes he can see and hear Shakespeare (Hood), while his friends cannot. He pulls an all-nighter to deliver the goods. But he awakens to a new reality in which Kate and Harry are united in heart and conviction that he is crazy.
It’s ostensibly a love story with supernatural intervention. But the love affair flounders even before Kate and Harry rekindle an old flame behind Michael’s back. I didn’t feel vested in the love triangle, but I loved watching Vellon and Hood’s collaboration. Who can resist a charismatic cutie and a clown? Who but Hood could sound convincing as he speculates that modern audiences might no longer find sex and violence appealing? Miller, with his commanding voice and presence, is a seductive manipulator.
Would that technical aspects of this show could rival the performances. The lighting is stagnant and insufficient in the portions of the stage the cast occupies most frequently. One important prop seems like a juvenile joke: a flat-sided goldfish bowl meant to suggest a crystal ball. As if a spherical one is so hard to find? The costumes are entirely black and white and boring, except for Shakespeare’s period costume with shades of grey. I’m still trying to figure out if that was accidental or if it has some hidden meaning.
Still, this play showcases great local talent in a story you are bound to enjoy. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Shakespeare live before he disappears into the mists of time for another 400 years.