The Maddening Truth
nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
January 26, 2008
Martha Gellhorn was one of the greatest journalists of her time. She covered major international armed conflicts at a time when a woman war correspondent was some sort of contradiction in terms. She wrote about the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Hitler and World War II—including D-Day (she got there without an official assignment, impersonating a stretcher carrier to witness the landings), the Vietnam War, etc. Her six-decade work was truly pioneering and inspiring as she never ceased to care about underprivileged people, soldiers or civilians, who actually carry the burden of political decisions made by others. She was also the author of five novels, 14 novellas, and two collections of short stories. However, some gossip-lovers and romanticized-biography-readers may know her only as the third wife of Ernest Hemingway, to whom she was married for from 1940 to 1945, and as a beautiful woman who had many affairs and even "used" men for a good story.
That's why a play like The Maddening Truth by David Hay is so important, offering us an insightful and witty glimpse into Gellhorn's life and personality. Co-presented by the Keen Company and Neal Weisman, and directed by the company's artistic director Carl Forsman, the play takes, as the press release tells us, "a searing look at Ms. Gellhorn's desperate attempt, in her mid-60s, to fulfill her lifelong ambition: to write a luminous novel."
The action takes place in the 1970s, in London, where Gellhorn, played by Lisa Emery, held a salon, attended by many smart and ambitious male writers of the day, including Peter Wilkinson who is fascinated by her life and interviews her. The (in)tense relationship between the younger and the older writer takes both of them on a journey of discovery. Martha, who strongly rejects talking about her private life in the beginning, learns to use and trust the first person in her writing, and to finally face and integrate her personal experiences in the process. Peter learns to appreciate Martha for her work and talent as a writer, not just as a well-connected woman and brave journalist.
The cast, composed of Emery plus William Connel (Peter Wilkinson), Richard Bekins (Laurence Rockefeller), Peter Benson (James Hastings, the editor-in-chief), and Terry Layman (Ernest Hemingway), does a great job under the direction of Forsman, keeping up with the fast rhythm of the episodic dramatic structure while preserving the depth and complexity of the characters. The set by Beowulf Boritt is simple and effective, a tree with sheets of paper instead of leaves suggestively dominating the stage.
Keen Company's mission states that they are devoted to the production of "sincere plays." And indeed the world premieres of John Belluso's Pyretown, Keith Reddin's Can't Let Go and David Auburn's adaptation The Journals of Mihail Sebastian (a Jewish-Romanian writer who was abandoned by his fascist former friends), to name only a few, are good examples of the consistency of their attempts. The Maddening Truth is another worthwhile and honest effort of bringing onto the stage stories and characters that matter. Go see it!