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Zelda
Published on Saturday, 25 August 2012
3

3 stars

Greenside (venue website)
Theatre
20-25 Aug, 8:30pm-9:40pm
Reviewed by Allison Mckeon

 Recommended for age 14+ only.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Having just finished The Beautiful and Damned, a pseudo-autobiographical novel about their romance, it seemed like happy serendipity that my favorite venue Greenside was featuring a show exploring the institutionalization of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda. The lives of the avant-garde literati have always been a source of fascination – but unlike a big, compromised Hollywood blockbuster like ‘Midnight in Paris’, this show offered the intimacy and directness of a small theatre performance.

It’s a one-woman show on a furnished stage. Zelda is in an asylum undergoing treatment for schizophrenia, and as she explains her current situation to the audience she meanders (not walks; it’s 70 minutes) down memory lane. She considers herself in various nostalgic settings and in different company as the show wears on, from her girlhood home with her very proper Southern mother, to New York City and Paris, delightedly drinking away her youth with her love – identified only as ‘Scott’.

I think the actual show, while good, wasn’t as great as the idea of it. Zelda was appropriately gregarious, charming, devilish, short-tempered and beautifully broken, but the performance was overdone. If you’ve got a dynamic schizophrenic with heavy Southern accent as your only character, you’ve got to take it easy: there’s already a lot going on. Also having seen photos of the self-proclaimed original flapper, I think the actress playing her could’ve been better cast.

That said, and with the occasional melodramatic wailing and lack of likeness aside, she did capture the spirit of Zelda Fitzgerald quite well. The show was also peppered with interesting and genuinely hilarious references to other expat writers, the best of which include a deadpanned reference to their mutt adopted from a local shelter affectionately named Ezra Pound; and the memorable foul-mouthed climax of her complaining about Ernest Hemingway.

The back story of Zelda Fitzgerald is interesting enough on its own that the show didn’t need to throw in so many references to her husband to keep the audience interested: it made me a little sad to witness on stage Zelda’s frustration with being overlooked, and simultaneously recognise that the show’s emphasis inadvertently gives her a similar treatment. It is, nevertheless, a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the golden couple of the Jazz Age; and its vicarious romance succeeds in making you wish you were young, in love, and drinking Pernod in Paris.

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