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A play about writing is not very exciting at Florida Stage

By Skip Sheffield

“Ghost Writer”

To fully appreciate “Ghost Writer” it is helpful if not imperative to be a writer…or at least have attempted to write creatively.

Anyone who has tried to create an original work knows how hard it is, yet conversely, writing comes so easily to some people it almost seems like magic or some kind of supernatural power.

So as an erstwhile writer, I am a likely target for a new drama running through April 3 at Florida Stage’s new home at Kravis Center. Be forewarned you may not feel the same way.

“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 an imaginary world and populating it with real and believable characters.

For this his fourth Florida Stage contribution, Hollinger has created Franklin Woolsey (J. Fred Shiffman in his local debut), a celebrated novelist in the New York City of 1919. Playing his loyal, tireless and increasingly possessive (crazy?) secretary Myra Babbage is Kate Eastwood Norris, also making her Florida debut.

Franklin’s imposing, imperious and stylish wife Vivian is played by Florida Stage regular Lourelene Snedecker.

It is clear even to the casual observer that Myra is more than just loyal. She is devoted, you could say smitten, and Franklin Woolsey is her life. Vivian tolerates Myra as a tool of the money-making machine that is her husband, but when he dies, and Myra continues to “take dictation” from Franklin’s departed spirit to finish an incomplete novel, it is too much for Vivian. She tries in rising anger to discredit Myra as a fraud.

That’s really all there is to “Ghost Writer.” 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.

In short if you are looking for excitement, danger or smoldering sensuality, this is not a play for you.

The truth of the matter is the act of writing is a solitary, introspective, unexciting thing. Try as this play and director Louis Tyrrell may, they can’t alter the fact that writing is not a spectator sport. Take it from someone who has tried.

Tickets are $25-$50. Call 561-585-3433 or visit

‘Mars Needs Moms,’ — and so does Earth

Hey there, single moms, here is just the movie for you.

“Mars Needs Moms” celebrates all mothers, single or married, but I think it has special meaning for women struggling to fill the role of both parents.

“Mars Needs Moms” is a motion-capture animated comedy from the makers of “Polar Express.” I saw a preview of the movie at the giant screen IMAX Theatre in Fort Lauderdale with a single mom and her two young sons. I think it is fair to say we all loved the film, young and old.

Joan Cusack stars as the mother of Milo, a typically unappreciative 9-year-old boy who gives mom a hard time over his chores.

Mom isn’t even given a name in this contemporary fable by cartoonist Berkeley Breathed. There is a dad, but he is mostly absent.

Breathed won a 1987 Pulitzer prize for political cartooning with his popular strip “Bloom County,” and he retired the strip at the peak of its popularity in 1989.

There are political references in “Mars Needs Moms,” but most of them will fly over the heads of little kids.

The story is set in the present, with very funny blasts from the past adults will appreciate.

Milo is played by Seth Green for his motion and Seth Robert Dusky for his voice.

After complaining about taking out the garbage, Milo blurts out, “My life would be so much better if I didn’t have a mom at all.”

Milo doesn’t realize it, but he just said the magic words. Martians monitor human activity on planet Earth you see, and every so often they swoop down in a space ship and abduct an ideal mother. Milo’s mom is a perfect candidate. When mom is snatched, Milo desperately tries to save her, and he becomes an inadvertent stowaway on the space ship.

Life on Mars is a regimented nightmare. Martian boys and girls are artificially created and the sexes are separated at birth. Girls become sexless worker bees and soldiers and boys become hairy ape-like creatures forced to live in the planet’s giant subterranean garbage dump. The whole planet is ruled by the elderly dictator known as the Supervisor (Mindy Sterling), a nasty, spirit-killing tyrant.

Milo learns all this after he slides down a garbage chute to evade his pursuers and meets Gribble (Dan Folger motion and voice), who is king of the garbage heap.

Gribble is a jolly man whose mom was abducted years ago, when Ronald Reagan was President. Gribble had been part of Reagan’s “Secret Astronaut Program,” and he has been stuck in that era ever since.

Visually “Mars Needs Moms” is a delight, jam-packed with action, colorful costumes that parody the 1970s and 1980s and a musical soundtrack that captures the delicious retro flair.

I’ll let you guess the payoff, but parents and especially moms can rest assured their children will see them in a new, more appreciative light. See it with your kids. If you don’t have a kid, borrow one.

Four stars


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