The venerable Ross Valley Players have a long history of presenting new works to their audiences. In 1984, they initiated the Ross Alternative Works (RAW) program, dedicated to staged readings and full productions of original works by Bay Area playwrights. This season brings Scott & Zelda: The Beautiful Fools, running now through April 28.
Written by Sausalito resident Lance S. Bellville and directed by Lynn Lohr, it’s a look at the tumultuous relationship of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. It’s not a strict bio piece per se, but a “stream of consciousness” play that takes place in the mind of Fitzgerald.
Set in the late 1930’s during Fitzgerald’s frustrating tenure as a Hollywood screenwriter, we first meet Scott (Frankie Stornaiuolo) in the apartment of his mistress, Hollywood gossip columnist Sheila Graham (Marissa Ellison). Fitzgerald’s employment in Hollywood had come to an end and he begins to look back at his life and what brought him to his dispirited state.
The play zips back and forth between the times and places where key events in Fitzgerald’s life took place – when he first meets Zelda (Emily Dwyer), their time together in Paris, his friendship with Ernest Hemingway (Izaak Heath), their Long Island residency with next-door neighbor Groucho Marx (Peter Warden), his parenthood of daughter “Scottie” (Charlotte Curtain), and Zelda’s decline due to mental illness. It’s all sort of “book-ended” with comments and exposition from Fitzgerald’s literary agent Harold Ober (Warden again) and editor Max Perkins (Ron Talbot).
This is playwright Belleville’s second stab at the celebrated couple, having had a previous iteration of the script produced thirty-five years ago at the St. Paul, MN theatre founded by Bellville and director Lohr. What modifications were made to the script are unknown to me, but what was presented in Ross was a bit of a mess.
There’s little depth to the characters and the hopscotching around their lives amounts to a Classics Illustrated approach to their story. Performance-wise, Dwyer does well as Zelda, a fascinating individual who deserves to have her story told (better). Stornaiuolo, who overcame script deficiencies with his character in the last RVP production, has no such luck here and is given little to do other than resemble Fitzgerald. Among the supporting players, Warden’s agent and Heath’s Hemingway come off best.
To paraphrase Fitzgerald’s contemporary Gertrude Stein, when it comes to Scott & Zelda, there’s no there there.
Rating (out of 5): ★★½
‘Scott & Zelda: The Beautiful Fools’ runs Friday – Sunday through April 28 at the Barn Theatre in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Times vary. $20. 415.883.4498. rossvalleyplayers.com.
Photos by John Navas