Scott and Zelda

By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  August 14, 2007
that seasoned adults are being played by teenagers. But the singing voices are all satisfying, and two or three are quite good.
 
The action takes place on the French Riviera in 1925 and Baltimore in the 1930s. In the earlier year, Scott (Christopher Dieman) has just written The Great Gatsby, which received remarkable critical acclaim — almost as remarkable as its commercial failure, in contrast to the popular success five years before of This Side of Paradise. Full of self-doubt and accompanying self-loathing, he is now fitfully working on Tender Is the Night.
 
In this portrayal, Zelda (Lara Maynard) is given credit for being a positive influence on Scott’s writing, especially for her helpful critiques of Gatsby. She may have been a spoiled Alabama socialite, but she did see her own autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, published in 1932. Less controversial an influence is Ernest Hemingway (W. Matthew LeClair), who more than once put himself on record that he thought Scott was prostituting his talent in writing short stories for popular magazines and that Zelda was jealous of his writing skill.
 
But this musical is also about the trust fund patrons Gerald and Sara Murphy (Benjamin Grills and Theresa Masse). They not only gave lavish parties for their literary and artist friends but, by this account, supported Scott by paying for the Fitzgeralds’ Riviera villa and nanny, among other things. Hemingway jokes to them that he hates to see a married couple so happy: “It’s unnatural.” Indeed, both the couple and the actors playing them are the most appealing people in this tale, our surrogate eyes on the madness of the self-destructive writers depicted. The song “Children” that they sing provides insight into their forgiving behavior as they implicitly compare their own children to their immature friends.
 
Of course, we see Scott and Zelda fighting a lot, but an illuminating device Garzilli uses to convey Zelda’s inner state some of these times is to have her dancing defiantly about him, like a furious Isadora Duncan. This account of their lives centers around an affair she is known to have had with a French aviator, Edouard (Jack Stupinski). Here he is depicted as falling in love with her, and as Scott and Edouard sincerely beg for her affection in “Fly Away with Me To¬night,” Dieman and Stupinski finally relax into some natural and affecting acting.
 
The women in this production are the best actors, with Masse consistently capturing a fascinating Sara and Maynard usually rising to the occasion as Zelda. Together they hit the mark pointedly with “Don’t Run Away.” Jo-Anna Colangelo as seductive flapper singer Josephine takes this musical to the level it should rise to in the set piece “What’s a Girl to Wear?”
 
As a story, the musical peters out, however. After Zelda collapsed into a nervous breakdown in 1930, she was diagnosed as schizophrenic and soon confined to a mental hospital where she eventually died. But this show’s account doesn’t complicate the tale by making her so unstable, so it just trails off with her unaccountably disappearing.
 
Costume design by Elsie Collins is quite convincing for the period, especially with Josephine’s stunning flapper dress. Choreography is by Olga Timokhin. For this scaled-down production of keyboards, bass, and percussion, musical direction is by Jay Treloar and Philip Martorella.
 
The Cornerstone Playhouse is a new, 50-seat black box theater adjacent to the True Brew Café. Posts here and there interrupt sightlines, and not all seats are on risers. This is their third production.
 
Rhode-Island-based Garzilli first had The Smart Set workshopped in New York in 1993. It was revived there 10 years later and more recently was performed in Burrillville. Garzilli has also written the musicals Michelangelo, which was performed earlier this year at the Providence Performing Arts Center, and Rage of the Heart, which he is revising for a Broadway production.  
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