Amadeo Astorino explores his fascination with the friendship between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in this elegantly structured work. Jazz Angel is neither homage nor hagiography, rather a simple theatrical presentation of two intense, self-indulgent personalities, the dynamic between them and their respective love relationships. Lliam Amor beautifully inhabits the machismo 'Papa' Hemingway, Justin Hosking plays the alchoholic Fitzgerald with typical skill, and Katherine Innes takes on the roles of significant women in the men's lives as well as the character of Lulu, a composite 'everygirl'-meets-recording angel. Shannon Woollard directs. The actors are well cast and two leads distinguish themselves, convincingly portraying Hemingway and Fitzgerald while avoiding caricature. The device of Lulu, both witness and female voice, works well in shifting the story in time and place. Innes gives us a sensitive Zelda, at war with Hemingway, who believed she dominated Fitzgerald and distracted him from writing. Images of bullfighting bookend the play and a stand-out scene as Innes displaying her knowledge of the toreador's choreography, impressing the men who, try as they might, cannot ignore her.
If anything, the play is more sympathetic to the neurotic Fitzgerald and the bullying Hemingway in giving each man more dignity than perhaps he deserves while glossing over the effect of their antics on the women in their lives; it is their story, however and as a picture of masculine vulnerability it works well. The imagined conversations feel authentic. An incidental exploration of American (male) identity is touched on nicely as is the mood and thinking of the era after WWI both in the US and Europe. For a play to succeed without the traditional story trajectory or core dramatic conflict says much about the playwright's skill. Jazz Angel loses nothing by its lack of a single oppositional dynamic as the characterisation is engaging and the the detail rich.
The lighting is too cold and the effect of flickering gaslight too obvious, also the final scene ends with Amor skedaddling awkwardly offstage when he'd be better off staying put in the black while the others return to take their bows when the lights come up. These are quibbles though. Jazz Angel is well-written and nicely paced, a satisfying, evocative and entertaining work, well worth a look-see.
Birnam Wood Theatre and akAA Productions present
by Amedeo Astorino
Director Shannon Woollard
Venue: Upstairs at the Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins Street, Melbourne
Dates: 7 – 18 August, 2013
Times: Wed – Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 7.30pm
Tickets: $37 – $30