Kathleen Garrett gives a tour-de-force performance in William Luce’s one-woman, single-act play, “Zelda, the Last Flapper.”
Ostensibly, Luce’s script provides a retrospect of Zelda Fitzgerald’s emotional roller-coaster life. But the piece’s value lies in its examination of creative genius that flashes brilliantly before consuming itself indulging in an unfettered, impassioned pursuit of life.
As with his earlier success, “The Belle of Amherst,” Luce derives much of his text from material penned by his subject.
The play takes place at the sanatorium in which Zelda spent the last years of her life. She arrives for a therapy session only to discover that her psychiatrist has canceled her appointment. Alone in his office, Zelda plays both doctor and patient as she relives her past with ritual compulsion.
Schizophrenia provides the ideal vehicle for Zelda’s fragmented remembrances.
She moves through the past, revealing a rebellious nature that surfaced in the home of her Southern aristocratic parents. Against her father’s wishes, Zelda marries F. Scott Fitzgerald, beginning their whirlwind existence and mutual jealousies, all ending with her husband committing her to an asylum.
An artist and author in her own right, Zelda finds herself a repressed candle dimly flickering in her husband’s limelight, with Scott constantly trying to extinguish or utilize her creative efforts (Zelda confides, “Scott believes that plagiarism begins in the home”).
It is her submission of a novel to Fitzgerald’s editor that leads to Zelda’s institutionalization.
Zelda embodies the “live fast, die young” philosophy, summing it up with “… climb to the top and live high, and if the fines are heavy … then what the hell!” Happiness eludes her; she had always expected it “to be more dramatic.”
With musical interludes, voices from her past and the abrasive drawl of a duty nurse occasionally interrupting, Zelda’s recollection becomes a state of confession that results in catharsis as she battles her demons.
With cutting wit one moment, tangible angst the next, Garrett plays all 88 notes of the emotional keyboard–at times with the sophistication of a concert grand, at others with the tinny commonness of a rinky-tink.
Guy Giarrizzo’s precise direction guides the actress through the progression economically. Garrett’s only scene partner is Thomas Rinker’s masterful sound, and Pamela Reese’s lights effectively shift mood, time and space.
This highly recommended production provides insights into one of literary history’s most tempestuous affairs; it also exposes the darker results of shackling an artist’s emergence.
Had Zelda Fitzgerald lived today, her work might have superseded her repression, and her rejected attempts to share in her husband’s career might have avoided their tragic finale. Still, her end may have been inevitable, for, as Zelda put it, “Death is the only real elegance.”