Birnam Wood Theatre, akAA Productions
to 18 August
F Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemingway met in Paris in the 1920s and hung with the, newly-named, lost generation gang of artists that so many artists wish they could have hung out with (even before Woody Allen made Midnight in Paris). Amedeo Astorino's Jazz Angel starts with the known facts about Fitzgerald and Hemingway's friendship, between their meeting in 1925 and Pappa H's death in 1961, and imagines their conversations.
I don't know if Fitzgerald gave Hemingway a completed draft of what was published as The Great Gatsby in a Montmartre cafe after a few drinks but it makes a great story. There was a lot of drinking in the fictional and real stories and lives of these men and Jazz Angel is fuelled by alcohol and the conficting passions and impotences of both men.
Lliam Amor (Hemingway) and Justin Hosking (Fitzgerald) breath convincing life into the men who we know best through their writing. We have photos, newspaper gossip, many letters and bios but the legend of these writers has been created by their never-out-of-print writing.
"All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is." Hemingway wrote this to Fitzgerald in 1934 after the publication of Fitzerald's Tender is the Night. Hemingway didn't care much for the novel and seemed to want to convince his friend to stop worrying about readers and to write from his heart. It's written by a man who knows the other almost too well and has the freedom to be honest.
Under Shannon Woollard's direction, both actors start with the men imagined from their work and try to break through the masks to find the honesty and truth of their relationship and its deterioration. It's a tough ask, as both were intimidated by the other's skill and in a different situation, they may never have chosen to be friends.
Astorino is obviously a huge fan of both writers, but what makes it far more than a fan fiction bio is LuLu, a woman who appears at each meeting. It's up to the audience to decide who or what she really is, but she's the heart of the piece and Katharine Innes plays her with a lightness and strength that often makes her far more interesting than the men who woo her. Perhaps it's because she's allowed to be herself, without any shadow of greatness holding her back.
Not having read Fitzgerald and Hemingway won't hurt an understanding of Jazz Angel, but a lot of it assumes that the audience know as much as the creators. We're endlessly fascinated by the private lives of artists and this glimpse into their world is fascinating for fans and will surely encourage those who haven't read them to do so. (I now want to read the Sons of Maxwell Perkins, letters between editor Perkins and Fitzgerald/Hemingway.)
And, the bonus treat is that Jazz Angel is on in the upstairs theatre of Melbourne's gorgeous Athenaeum. The building was already old in the 1920s, but it's easy to imagine Melbourne's literarti meeting in the library and moving to the plush meeting rooms for a snifter and discussion about the new books by those Americans.
This was also on AussieTheatre.com.