ACT II: A second look at area stages — ‘Tea with Edie & Fitz’
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org May 9, 2013 10:22PM
F. Scott Fitzgerald (Madison Niederhauser) outshines his wife, Zelda (Nora Lise Ulrey), in “Edie & Fitz.” | Anthony La Penna photo
EDIE AND FITZ’
When: Through June 9
Where: Dead Writers Theatre Collective at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
Info: (773) 404-7336; www.greenhousetheater.org
Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission
Updated: May 12, 2013 2:44AM
Lucky timing or a shrewd bet on synergy? Thanks to this weekend’s release of Baz Luhrmann’s new film version of “The Great Gatsby,” the Dead Writers Theatre Collective might just get a little extra buzz for its production of “Tea With Edie and Fitz.”
Set in 1925, the new play, a work of ambition and potential as well as considerable pretense, looks at that iconic Jazz Age duo of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. And it chronicles a brief encounter between Fitzgerald and that grande dame of American literature of the earlier Gilded Age, Edith Wharton.
When Wharton (Patti Roeder) receives a pre-publication manuscript of “The Great Gatsby” from the eminent publisher Charles Scribner, she is dismissive. The indulgent, uncensored lifestyle and literary style of such Jazz Age upstarts are not to her liking, even if her own work was considered daring in its day. And she discusses all this at length with the ghost of her late mentor, Henry James (deft work by Michael D. Graham).
Meanwhile, F. Scott (Madison Niederhauser) and Zelda (sparkling Nora Lise Ulrey, making a firecracker-like Chicago debut) have more serious problems to deal with, including his alcoholism and her encroaching madness that is only intensified by her thwarted desire to be an artist the equal of her husband. (Her insecure husband, it is suggested, stole ideas from her diary while continually putting her down.)
And then there is the abiding issue of the Fitzgeralds’ sexual preferences. Is F. Scott really gay (certainly that is how he is played here, when far more ambiguity would have been welcome), and does he have an unsatisfied hankering for his friend and rival Ernest Hemingway? Is Zelda a nymphomaniac or a lesbian? Are they both bisexual?
Director Jim Schneider elicits stylish character turns from Nelson Rodriguez, Christina Irwin, Peter Esposito, Luke Renn, Bill Chamberlain, Ben Muller, Megan DeLay and Brandon Johnson.
As for the moral of the story, amid all the chaos and chatter? Every established writer feels threatened by the next generation. But the more things change, the more we are “borne back ceaselessly into the past.”