THE BRUNSWICK BEACON, THURSDAY, AUGUST 29, 2002
The Night Hemingway
Came to Town
Hemingway came to Brunswick County last week and left an unforgettable impression on this theater lover.
Papa: The Man, the Myth, the Legend, played a one-night stand at the Odell Williamson Auditorium on the campus of the Brunswick County Community College and was nothing less than terrific.
There are some biases I should let you know about before I continue.
I was the college kid in Paris and Venice in 1969 who made sure he drank in every bar around that Hemingway drank in.
I was the reporter who, on the way to a job in California, drove about 300 miles out of his way to visit Hemingway's grave in Ketchum, Idaho. I am a big fan of Hemingway's writing.
The above might have prejudiced me toward the show, but I don't think so. If anything, many theater weekends in Manhattan at both Broadway and Off-Broadway shows have prejudiced me against productions anywhere else. I didn't expect much from a production in Brunswick County.
I was wrong. I could have been sitting in an Off-Broadway theater - the production was that professionally mounted and the acting that good.
Jordan Rhodes played Hemingway and did a great job. He wasn't a dead ringer but that didn't matter, he captured the nuance. He did his homework.
When Rhodes read Hemingway's Nobel Prize acceptance speech he was spot-on with inflection and intent. I know because I've listened to tapes of Hemingway reading that speech many times.
Listening to the real Hemingway was surprising. The first time I did, I expected a basso profundo voice, such as a James Earl Jones voice. Not so. Hemingway had a high voice. Not as high as Truman Capote, but up there.
That helped make Rhodes' interpretation of Hemingway one I liked. He spoke naturally. He did not try to overplay Hemingway's masculinity by speaking in a low register. That would have been false.
The play, written by Rhodes and Ken Vose, both of whom have extensive credits in film and television, takes place in Hemingway's mind.
Hemingway is in Ketchum, and we meet him just before he is about to put a shotgun to his head in 1961.
He begins to talk about his life instead and we are privy to his thoughts on his life. Hemingway lived an over-size life and with hundreds of volumes written about it, putting that life into two hours of a play must have presented a challenge.
Rhodes and Vose chose to concentrate on what they saw as Hemingway's demons.
Volumes have been written about Hemingway and his relationship with his parents. His mother was, to put it mildly, domineering to the point of emasculating. His father committed suicide and Hemingway called him a coward after it.
There is a school of thought that believes it was Hemingway's rebellion against his mother that drove him to write some of the best and most culturally-masculine literature ever written. The connection is shown in the play but there was no heavy-handed pushing the theory.
The audience is left to form its own conclusions, which is what good theater is supposed to do. It is supposed to present life to us and have us decide what to make of it.
Hemingway's women are another thread that runs through the play and they were played by Lynn Moore.
Agnes von Kurowsky broke Hemingway's heart in World War I. She was a woman several years older than Hemingway and there may be the mother connection there also. Again it is left to the audience to figure out.
For one actor to assume roles as Kurowsky and Hemingway's four wives must have been a challenge, but Moore managed it marvelously. The women were brought to life and I thought they had to put up with their own demon - Hemingway - more than he had to put up with them.
There was another demon that was constantly with Hemingway. It was a rare moment that Hemingway did not spend on stage without a drink in his hand. The playwrights were wise enough to show the constant drinking and leave conclusions up to the audience.
There are some things the audience is not supposed to notice in a play. Lighting, set design and music are there to support the action of a play and those were handled well by Michael C. Sapp, executive director of the auditorium and Brunswick County resident. Moore contributed the music.
A two-person play in which the action is described and stories told rather than shown makes for a difficult play to direct.
Sapp directed and the pacing of character development and the actor's stage movements added to the interest of the story being told by Rhodes' Hemingway.
The play is being taken on the road to Chicago, New Orleans and Atlanta among other cities. There is talk of Off-Broadway.
I hope the play succeeds financially, it did succeed artistically.