SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2003
Play gives audience look at Hemingway's action-packed existence.
By Lynn Trenning
Special to The Observer
"I can't remember what to write any more", growls actor Jordan Rhodes in his role as Ernest Hemingway. Told in flashbacks from Hemingway's home in Idaho on the morning of his suicide at 61, "Papa: the man, the myth, the legend" provides enough information on the bodacious icon of 20th-century American fiction to spur a thesis paper.
Rhodes dominates the stage as Hemingway. He is in turn daunting, gleeful, frustrated and arrogant. Sizing up the audience, he shouts that his "career changed the face of your fiction." Indeed it did.
The play is a delightful romp through Hemingway's panoramic life. From ambulance driver to war correspondent, from running with the bulls to bagging big game in Africa, Hemingway's fiction was a product of his hunger for life.
Written by Ken Vose and Rhodes, "Papa" uses the timeline of Hemingway's lovers to tell his story. Lynn Moore appears in brief but illuminating cameos, first as Agnes Kurowsky, the 26-year-old nurse who broke Hemingway's 19-year-old heart, and last as his fourth wife Mary Welsh.
But this is Jordan Rhodes' show. He dances with a bullfighting cape, and beams when recounting his literary victories. He recounts fishing with Castro in Cuba, drinking with Ezra Pound in Paris, and hanging out with Gary Cooper in Hollywood.
The play is riddled with obscure facts such as Hemingway's conversion to Catholicism, and the particulars of his divorces. It is a who's who of literary expatriates, including Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Most strikingly, the play exposes the humanity of a man who became larger than himself in the eyes of the American public.