Sunday, March 8, 2009

Review - The Expatriates (The Beggars Group and FRIGID New York)

Review by Byrne Harrison

There is a certain propensity to glamorize the Jazz Age, especially the lives of its larger-than-life denizens. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Parker - all invoke the image of something grand, yet all led fairly tragic lives. Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at 44. Zelda died in a fire eight years later. Hemingway shot himself. Dorothy Parker outlived them all, but dealt with suicide attempts and alcoholism.

This is the Jazz Age that The Beggars Group presents in The Expatriates, in its latest incarnation as part of this year's FRIGID New York Festival. First produced in 2000 at the New York Fringe Festival, the play has been rewritten and performed at various times. The latest version is described by The Beggars Group as the first movement in a four-part cycle exploring the nature of artistic creation by focusing on the lives of the artists of the Lost Generation. This 'first movement' uses the highs and lows of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life as its framework.

Told in a hallucinatory and nonlinear way, The Expatriates is not for those who like to be told a story, start to finish, in a way that elucidates the intention of the playwright. Instead, it's like archeology - viewing a few broken shards of a life and trying to recreate the civilization it came from. It's an exciting and fascinating process.

Justin Sturges' simple, spare set and dark, moody lighting accentuate the dream-like qualities of the play, as do the quick jumps in time and place. Under the watchful eyes of directors Randy Anderson and Harrison Williams, the play progresses in fits and starts - revealing slowly the lessons to be learned from Fitzgerald's life and work.

The cast seems perfectly at ease with this unusual style of theatre. Excellent work is done all around, especially by Harrison Williams as Fitzgerald and Jenny Bennett, who shows excellent range as Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein, and Isadora Duncan. Morgan Lindsey Tachco does an excellent job as Zelda, especially in her more desperate moments. Preston Copley is very good as Ernest Hemingway, a bulwark compared to the disintegrating Fitzgerald. It would be interesting to see him do more with that role in future parts of The Expatriates' cycle.

The Expatriates is an exciting and interesting piece of theatre. I look forward to seeing what The Beggars Group has in store as it continues to explore the darker moments of the Jazz Age, and the amazing art that came from the turmoil.

Developed by The Company
Written by Randy Anderson, Harrison Williams, Jenny Bennett
Directed by Randy Anderson, Harrison Williams
Lighting, Set, Sound Design: Justin Sturges
Costume Design: Meredith Mosely-Bennett

Featuring: Harrison Williams (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Morgan Lindsey Tachco (Zelda Fitzgerald), Preston Copley (Ernest Hemingway), Jenny Bennett (Dorothy Parker/Gertrude Stein/Isadora Duncan), Daniela Dakic (Sheila Graham/Lotti), Sarah Anderson (Sara Murphy), Randy Anderson (Gerald Murphy)

The Kraine Theater
85 East Fourth Street

Through Sunday, March 8th
See for details.