The guys who lead Spinning Tree Theatre never really want to repeat themselves.
The first production of their 2014-15 season, for example, is being staged at Quality Hill Playhouse, which is a Spinning Tree first, and the three talented actors in “Ghost-Writer” are making their Spinning Tree debuts.
Director Michael Grayman said that he and partner Andy Parkhurst discovered the play as they worked their way through stacks of scripts in search of material that would be a good fit.
“We were just reading plays,” Grayman said. “We really loved the piece. That’s literally how I found ‘Ghost-Writer.’ We hadn’t seen the play itself. We just fell in love with it.”
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Michael Hollinger’s extended one-act depicts a turn-of-the-century novelist and his relationship with his typist and his wife. It appears to be very loosely inspired by the relationship between Henry James and his typist, Theodora Bosanquet. But there are crucial differences.
“Hollinger was inspired because he heard an unattributed rumor that Theodora claimed to take dictation from Henry James after his death,” Grayman said. “But he used that as a jumping-off point. There’s no claim that Henry James and Theodora had any kind of relationship outside the professional one, and Henry James wasn’t married.”
The play, Grayman said, pivots on young Myra Babbage’s claim that she has continued to take dictation from the late novelist Franklin Woolsey. They worked so closely that the relationship morphed from employer-employee to collaborators.
Her claim of taking the writer’s dictation from the grave does not sit well with his widow, Vivian, who wonders if there was more to their relationship than typing.
The production features Katie Kalahurka, a fine young comic actress, as Myra; master of diction Robert Gibby Brand as Woolsey; and veteran area actress Jeannie Blau as Vivian.
Grayman said he and Parkhurst from the beginning pictured Brand as Woolsey and simply offered him the role. They were familiar with Kalahurka, who had auditioned for them before. And colleagues recommended Blau, who was asked to read for Vivian.
Grayman said they chose the intimate downtown venue in part because J. Kent Barnhart, Quality Hill’s executive director, is on the Spinning Tree board of advisers. He had made them a standing offer to use the space if the scheduling worked. As it turned out, Grayman and Parkhurst could stage “Ghost-Writer” in the time between the close of Quality Hill’s 2013-14 season and the beginning of the new season.
“He always said that if there was a piece that would work well in this space, we could talk about it,” Grayman said. “It’s a three-person play, it only has one set and it worked schedule-wise.”
This weekend marks your final chance to see the world premiere production of Michelle T. Johnson’s “Echoes of Ophelia” at Just Off Broadway. The show, which depicts a young writer torn between literary opportunities and loyalty to the family business, concludes a season from MeltingPot KC of original plays by women writers who either live in Kansas City or have strong local ties. The final performance is at 2 p.m. Sunday.