Thursday, February 07, 2008

I Think She Was Married to Ernest Hemingway

"The Maddening Truth" presented by the Keen Company at the Clurman @ Theater Row, February 7, 2008

The Keen's latest production maintains their high standard of production values with a beautiful set by Beowulf Borittt and serviceable lighting and costumes by Josh Bradford and Theresa Squire, respectively.

The play is a less successful piece by David Hay, whose writing includes an eclectic array of independent films and articles on art and architecture as well as this and another soon-to-be-produced play. The playbill notes state: "The events in this play are inspired by the life of Martha Gellhorn." Ms. Gellhorn (Lisa Emery) was an active war correspondent covering conflicts from Franco's Spain to the liberation of the concentration camps at Dachau to Vietnam to the US invasion into Panama. She was also the third wife of Ernest Hemingway. Mr. Hay takes this fertile opportunity and spins it into a less than interesting mix of action and flashback, awkardly fashioned around a professional relationship with another writer, Peter Wilkinson (William Connell). Mr. Hay pulls from many devices from the theatrical bag of tricks: direct address to the audience, flashbacks, radio broadcast readings from Ms. Gellhorn's writing, internal dialogs with a dead Hemingway.

In the end, the dialog feels forced and unnatural, Ms. Gellhorn's lines sound particularly British, though she was American born and raised (repeated used of words like "piffle," "palaver," and "buck up").

Ms. Emery works hard, but is ultimately miscast since her character is in her middle 60's for the majority of the play. She does her best to make the ill-fitting lines work. Mr. Connell is more successful as the young writer who befriends Ms. Gellhorn, alienates her and regains the friendship late in her life. His British accent helps him through the stilted language he's given with a bit of Hugh Grant style. Peter Benson as Wilkinson's boss at the unnamed British newspaper is wasted here in a small role. Terry Layman doubles as Hemingway and a radio actor. He doesn't have enough material to communicate the first character and is merely an instrument of the plot as the second. Richard Bekins as Laurance Rockefeller does what he can with the apology of a role he's taken.

Director Carl Forsman has also worked hard to make a compelling evening and manages to do so in spite of the weak material. Pacing is good and he makes some nice choices to add depth to the play.

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