Will America ever be able to exorcise its racial ghosts? Could reparations bring ultimate racial reconciliation? Can every earthly catastrophe be attributed to the proverbial “white male”? Will Black Americans ever be able to move forward without looking over their shoulder to see a racial boogeyman? The world premiere of Dane Figueroa Edidi’s play Ghost/Writer at Rep Stage fearlessly explores these questions, along with intersections of gender and history, in a significant and timely piece of stagecraft.
Under the direction of Danielle A. Drakes, Ghost/Writer offers the audience a consideration of the roles that justice, love, and joy play in a society where past ghosts continue to haunt us. Through the intertwined stories of Irish immigrant Patrick in 1920 and hack playwright Charles in 2019, Edidi makes the argument that we can only begin to atone for the wrongs of the past and work toward justice when we face them head-on.
In the first act, which takes place around the time of the 1920 Tulsa Race Riot, the play depicts Patrick seeking out the assistance of Ms. Ruby, a mysterious woman of color from Baltimore who is renowned for her ghost-exorcising skills. Patrick has killed a Klansman who threatened his Black lover and has sought refuge with Ms. Ruby. Edidi’s sharp writing perfectly captures the tense atmosphere of the scenes as Patrick struggles desperately to get rid of the ghosts of his past.
We find out that Patrick must make a difficult choice and that Ms. Ruby has a violent agenda of her own in response to losing her husband and children to racial violence. Ruby challenges Patrick to stand in solidarity with people of color and work toward dismantling oppressive systems.
The second act centers on Charles, who, in 2019, is having writer’s block and has hired eccentric ghostwriter Rebecca Warren to assist him. He doesn’t anticipate that their working together will bring his past transgressions to the surface. Charles is forced by Rebecca’s presence to address the racial and gender issues he has been avoiding. The audience learns of family and historical connections to the first act.
With her massive flow of African-braided hair, Edidi plays Ruby as a fierce warrior against America’s racist elements. At one point she wonders why “white people make the most tragic things that happen to Black people about them [whites].”
Ruby expresses the pain Black Americans have endured for centuries. Ruby asks: “What is justice when the country is unjust?”
In tender moments with Patrick, Edidi adds a compassionate side to Ruby’s arc. The audience sees a stark contrast with the scenes in which Ruby is on a racial warpath.
Edidi shows why she is an outstanding actor in her portrayal of Rebecca. In various scenes, she plays Rebecca as a too-energetic ghostwriter with a reputation for sleeping with her clients. In other scenes, she plays Charles’ Black, high school ex-girlfriend Angelica. In these scenes, Edidi subtly adds complexity to her roles.
Chris Stinson did an equally outstanding job playing Patrick and Charles. As the former, he brought an earnestness and naivete to the role wrapped in an Irish accent. Later, his arc went from arrogant to pathetic.
In his subtle and nuanced performance as Charles, Stinson masterfully captures the complexity of the issues surrounding white guilt and privilege. These scenes raise questions such as: Are white guilt and virtue signaling enough to answer America’s racial transgressions, or are tangibles like reparations the answer?
Andrew R. Cohen’s scenic design, on a revolving set, offers rich detail in both the 1920 and 2019 living quarters. In the former, the wall is covered with African masks and portraits of such luminaries as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. The living room and kitchen have a rustic, wooden motif. Charles’ 2019 snazzy apartment is full of sharp-angled, ultra-modern furniture, including a multiple-cube bookcase.
The sound design features poetic voiceovers by Ruby and offstage sound effects, thanks to Kenny Neal. Sarah Tundermann’s lighting design is magnificent because of effects such as a yellow spotlight in flashback scenes. Debra Kim Sivigny’s costume design is most effective in the dress she put Ruby in. Verisimilitude is enhanced by Jenny Male’s intimacy and fight direction. Andrew Coleman’s properties design included such detailed objects as a quaint lemonade pitcher and glasses.
What a play this is for Rep Stage, Howard Community College’s professional regional theater, to bring to its final season, which ends after a 30-year-run with the Tony Award-winning musical Falsettos. According to college officials, Howard is closing Rep Stage to focus on directly serving students.
Drakes, who directed a radio play version of Ghost/Writer, invites audiences to “let your senses guide you on this collective journey as time passes…from Tulsa to Baltimore.” Audiences will learn much from this poetic play, which is both a history lesson and a call to action.
Running Time: Two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Ghost/Writer plays through February 26, 2023, presented by Rep Stage performing in the Rouse Company Foundation Studio Theatre at the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center on the Howard Community College campus, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD. Tickets are available online and are $40 for general admission, $35 for seniors and military, $15 for students with a current ID, and $20 on Thursdays. For tickets and additional information, visit repstage.org or call the Horowitz Center Box Office at 443-518-1500 ext. 0. The box office is open Wednesdays through Fridays, 12 noon to 4 p.m. and 90 minutes prior to performance times.
Parking is available in a garage directly across from the Horowitz Center. There’s also non-garage parking in nearby lots.
COVID Safety: Masks are recommended but not required.
Ghost/Writer by Dane Figueroa Edidi
Dane Figueroa Edidi as Ruby/Rebecca
Chris Stinson as Patrick/Charles
Director: Danielle A. Drakes
Scenic Design: Andrew R. Cohen
Sound Design: Kenny Neal
Lighting Design: Sarah Tundermann
Costume Design: Debra Kim Sivigny
Properties Design: Andrew Coleman
Intimacy & Fight Director: Jenny Male
Howard Community College to shut Rep Stage after final two shows (news story, November 11, 2022)
Rep Stage radio play ‘Ghost/Writer’ is some mind-blowing writing (review by John Stoltenberg, May 15, 2021)