nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
February 26, 2009
The Beggars Group is admittedly obsessed with the collection of American artists who famously lived in Europe after World War I. In fact, their new play, The Expatriates, written by Randy Anderson, Harrison Williams, and Jenny Bennett, is the third time they've visited the lives of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and many of their equally well-known acquaintances on an East Village stage.
The current version of The Expatriates, running at The Kraine Theater as part of the FRIGID New York Festival, is described as the first movement of a larger theater piece—and the focus of this movement is F. Scott Fitzgerald. The play is structured as a series of fragmented, impressionistic vignettes, tracking the steady decline, and eventual death, of one of the 20th century's most celebrated writers. At the top, we see Scott reading aloud a letter that he has written to his wife, Zelda. Scott has moved to Hollywood to write screenplays (a job he considers "hack" work) and is involved with another woman, while Zelda is in an institution back on the East Coast. From here, we jump back and forth from Scott and Zelda's early days to their travels in Europe to the peak of Scott's literary fame and always coming back to the end, when it was all dissolving.
Chances are that if you're interested in seeing a play about early 20th century literati, you're probably already familiar with the facts of their lives. But the writer-directors (the play is also directed by Anderson and Williams) make the interesting choice of keeping what's familiar or assumed about this story mostly at arm's length. The patchwork feeling they bring to Fitzgerald's life by immersing the audience into relatively brief moments with strong, stylized, and often very exciting staging (aided by a simple, evocative set and an imaginatively spartan light design by Justin Sturges) keeps us from feeling as though we already know what there is to know about F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The actors all seem quite comfortable in this dreamscape. The women—in particular, Morgan Lindsey Tachco's Zelda and Jenny's Bennett's Dorothy Parker—seem uniquely comfortable splashing around in the affectations of a different age and, in turn, give playful, nuanced performances. In many ways it makes sense that I'd come out of a play about F. Scott Fitzgerald thinking about the women, with women looming as such large figures in his novels. But it did not seem that the writer/directors (Williams takes on a third hat in the role of Fitzgerald) used the probing sensitivity toward his character that they employed much better with the women. We see F. Scott Fitzgerald as a drunk—which he was (and which led to his early death at 44)—as an adulterer, as a hypochondriac, as a cuckold and ... well, as a screenwriter, but none of it generates much sympathy.
In all, The Expatriates is a visually interesting, well-performed piece that bears a look both now and, I'd wager, when The Beggars Group visits the 1920s again.