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Papa On Speed

A farewell to intimacy in Hemingway piece

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Ernest Hemingway packed a rich lode of living and writing into his nearly 62 years. The writing fed off his life experiences, but it didn't drain his zest for storytelling. Anecdotal accounts by friends and family attest to Hemingway's self-assured skills as a raconteur, and published interviews substantiate the hype.

Barreling through life, "Papa" seemed to collect battle wounds, concussions, women and divorces as if they were trophies. What he said about himself and his contemporaries was often as reckless as the way he lived -- and as fanciful as his writing. In his famed Paris Review joust with interviewer George Plimpton, Hemingway waived away pronouncements he had previously made -- some to Plimpton himself! -- disavowing them as if they were the ravings of a drunkard or a madman.

No doubt much of the mythology that swirls around Hemingway was self-made, so accuracy is tough to come by when you sum up the man. Wilmington actor Jordan Rhodes made an admirable attempt when he brought the play he co-wrote with Ken Vose, Papa: The Man, the Myth, the Legend, to Spirit Square last week.

The prologue sets us down at Hemingway's home in Ketchum, Idaho, on the last day of the author's life -- and the epilogue returns us there to hear Papa splatter himself with his shotgun as the lights go down. Inside that grim frame, Rhodes as Hemingway narrates his adventures and his escapades with a sprinkling of remarks on his famed literary acquaintances and his brushes with Hollywood idols Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman and Errol Flynn.

I emerged from McGlohon Theatre knowing more about Hemingway's life but without feeling I'd encountered the man or the writer. Rhodes told the story with plenty of spirit, but the energies gushing forth weren't the leonine or avuncular energies I expected.

Makeup and lighting weren't the problems, nor the quaint bric-a-brac that simulated Hemingway's study. Rhodes looked the part, particularly when he donned his glasses. But when Rhodes spoke about the matadors and the bullfights of Pamplona, his animation and wild gesticulations seemed better suited to Woody Allen or Neil Simon than the lordly Papa.

Stronger direction would have helped, but Michael C. Sapp was either incapable of the task or largely ignored by his star. Most notably in the early scenes in Paris, Rhodes' movements lacked purposefulness and variety. The galloping pace of his narrative, plumped with superfluous facts, was in jarring contrast to the somber plight of a writer at the end of his rope.

The piece, presented to benefit the National Brain Injury Research, Treatment & Training Foundation, could use some deft reworking. Rhodes should keep in mind that what Hemingway aimed for in his art was a distillation, not a frenetic recap. I found myself flashing back to Roger Durrett portraying Mark Twain on the same stage last January, savoring a puff on his sinful cigar, exhaling with satisfaction, and contemplatively watching the smoke waft into the air. Sometimes, less is more.

Three Moons Performance Arts Collaborative, which had previously surfaced at Evening Muse and The Wine Basket, sidled over into the local theater scene last week. Relationships, presented at SPAC, combined performances by two poets with two short plays. While Ann Marie Oliva's Confections gravitated a little too readily toward a happy ending, Sniffer Thique's beautiful f*cked-up man, ably read by douglas a. welton, convincingly delivered the bloody marrow of a toxic father-son relationship. Poets David Schuster and Barbara Lawing delivered nicely crafted, challenging work. On the strength of this sample, Lawing's future productions are worth checking out.

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