I saw Ross Mueller’s The Ghost Writer in production a couple of years ago and have really enjoyed reading the playscript today. The play is described as a thriller, but I think that’s a misnomer. It’s a drama with three main threads: In one an illiterate woman wants to publish a book about the unsolved murder of her little girl, in another a ghost writer navigates relationships with her lover, the book’s subject and her father (the publisher) and the third is about the writing process.
For me, the crime part is the least engaging. In production and in reading, the culprit is easy to pick very early in the piece. The most complex and interesting character is Claudia – the ghost writer. When we first meet her, she is walking in the door to her apartment, dripping wet at four in the morning. Her lover is inside and it quickly transpires that theirs is an affair with very strange rules.
CLAUDIA: Why don’t you go to work?
WEST: At four in the morning?
CLAUDIA: You strike me as the dedicated type.
WEST: What makes you think I have a job?
CLAUDIA: You’re always in a suit when you arrive.
WEST: We know nothing about each other, do we? Nothing at all.
CLAUDIA: What should we know?
WEST: Normal things /
CLAUDIA: Like what? /
WEST: Jobs – birthdays … names.
CLAUDIA: You wanna know my name?
WEST: It’s been six months – I think we’re ready for it.
Claudia is the mystery I would have liked to have figured out, but Mueller leaves her intriguingly enigmatic. She appears to be sick, possibly dying, and there are mentions of her having suffered depression. Her relationship with her father is fraught and her lover is allowed physical intimacy but no emotional intimacy. I wanted to know what made her tick, but she remained elusive.
I loved the insights into publishing celebrity memoirs. At the start of the play, Brihanna (the grieving mother) is in Robert (the publisher and Claudia’s father)’s office looking at his latest best-selling memoir.
BRIHANNA: […] did she write any of this?
ROBERT: No. It’s all ghost written. This is what we’re gonna do with you. You agree – we sign a contract – I employ an ex-journalist to conduct a series of interviews, they go away and write the book with your voice. Easy.
When Robert tells her all she has to do is read the proofs and give it her okay, Brihanna says she doesn’t do reading – she can’t.
ROBERT: You don’t have to be able to read to write a book! You just have to answer some questions.
I love that line! Makes me laugh every time. And cry on the inside when I think of all the brilliant writers slaving years over their unpublished manuscripts, when all they have to do is get a bit of notoriety and they too can have bestsellers.
The Ghost Writer is an intriguing and complex play. Rather than calling it a thriller, I’d call it a psychological drama, because it’s the relationships that make it so engaging.
Publisher: Playlab Press
Cast: 2M, 2F