Bullfight on Third Avenue, Bewley's Cafe: Ghosts of Hemingway and Fitzgerald meet in an Irish bar
Bullfight on Third Avenue
Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin Until August 3
Eddie Naughton's new play continues his series of chamber dramas of the literary left. His neat plays are tightly focused on great or significant characters, real or literary, and draw the audience into an already familiar world, creating an interesting dramatic dynamic between the real and the imagined.
Here we have Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald meeting up in Tim Costello's bar in New York in 1937, just before Hemingway departs for Spain to write about the civil war. Fitzgerald is at this stage living and working in Hollywood. The third character is the Irish bar owner, Costello, a socialist republican who left Ireland in disappointment at its post-revolutionary state.
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In Naughton's vision of this meeting, Fitzgerald sets about dissuading Hemingway from making the trip to Spain, accusing him of glorifying war and leading the American youth astray.
The men discuss their work and their wives. Fitzgerald's wife Zelda is in a sanatorium in California; Hemingway's second marriage, to Pauline Pfeiffer, is in trouble. Bubbling underneath all the conversation is the homophobic atmosphere of the times, which prevented men from even thinking about homoeroticsm, let alone really talking about it.
Rex Ryan is terrific as Ernest Hemingway, full of a bristling machismo, ready to throw a punch at small provocations. Ross Gaynor's Fitzgerald is suave and stylish, but the cracks in his psyche are not sufficiently apparent - he is not vulnerable enough. Dave Duffy as the bar owner makes a decent fist of playing third wheel on this high-powered date. He has the difficult job of drawing parallels between the Irish and Spanish civil wars - during this material the writing feels overly schematic.
Lisa Krugel creates a simple, elegant set design in sober bar-room green. Her costumes have tremendous precision. Karl Shiels' direction comes on too strong at the beginning, with the characters overly loud, as if straining to assert themselves and generate energy. The tone does settle down but has to win back ground. There are fine bits of staging, arm-wrestles and a mock bullfight, that give this conversational drama a winning physicality.
Taking imaginary forays into the minds of well-known people is an intriguing prospect. Though the Irish contextualising feels a little strained, Hemingway and Fitzgerald's ghosts still have a good arm-wrestle, as well as a very satisfying wrestling with words.