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A CurtainUp Review
The Jazz Age
By Elyse Sommer
Last summer both Fitzgerald and Hemingway turned up in a new play about Gerald and Sara Murphy (Villa America) commissioned by the Williamstown Theatre Festival. This season, off-Broadway theater goers keep bumping into Hemingway. He features importantly in a play about his third wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn (The Maddening Truth ), will have his play The Fifth Column, shown at the Mint Theater. And now you can meet both Hemingway and Fitzgerald, as well as the latter's beautiful but emotionally troubled wife, Zelda at 59E59th street where The Jazz Age, Allan Knee's play about the Hemingway-Fitzgerald friendship is having its world premiere.
Knee, whose The Man Who Was Peter Pan was made into the film Finding Neverland has now created a bio-drama inspired by A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's memoir of his early days in Paris,and the first of several posthumous publications. Hemingway prefaced his book with a comment that he wanted it to be regarded as fiction (probably because what he wrote about his friends was not particularly flattering). The Jazz Age too should be regarded as fiction.
The playwright has put his own spin on the interaction between Fitzgerald and Zelda, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, and Hemingway and Zelda. Yet there are enough events that have been documented not just in A Moveable Feast, to give his play an aura of factual authenticity. A scene in which the two literary icons get into a show and tell game about their genitalia is somewhat more amusing here than in the above mentioned Villa America. Anyone familiar with Hemingway's and Fitzgerald's work and personal lives is unlikely to find anything new here.
The Hemingway-Fitzgerald friendship begins while Hemingway was just starting out and ends with him at the top of his game. The sexual undertones that Knee has used to jazz up the biographical details too often tend to feel forced; and, even though they're fun, so do many of the quotable quips sandwiched into the dialogue.
The gorgeous Amy Rutberg (made even more gorgeous by Kimberly Glennon's lovely gowns) and handsome Dana Watkins are well cast as the only temporarily idyllic couple with their good looks, abundance of joie de vivre and ambition. Knee's chronicle of the Scott-Zelda romance doesn't stray too far afield from the facts. It moves from youthful flirtation, to their high flying days as stars of the Paris literary scenes an finally and, sadly, on to Zelda's descent into madness, and Scott's own physical and creative decline.
The most interesting and watchable performance comes from PJ Sosko even though he doesn't resemble Hemingway in physique or features. Christopher McElroen, co-founder of the invaluable Classical Theatre of Harlem, has dressed up the production with a three-piece combo tucked unobtrusively into a tiny balcony. Their incidental music music is apt and enjoyable but never too loud to be distracting. Ultimately, neither the musicians or the actors can make this factional take on Hemingway and Fitzgerald more interesting to watch than to read the stories and novels that are the true reason for their enduring and deserved fame.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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