Considering the monumental ambition of the young Little Eyases Ensemble, it is amazing it was even moderately successful in bringing off Boom: The Lost Generation. A play about New York’s cultural avant garde following World War I, it attempts to describe the milieu of great or near great American writers trying to cope, but absorbed and often destroyed by the ultra materialistic society of their time. The setting is a razzle-dazzle nightclub--in the Algonquin Hotel, perhaps, where the likes of writer, Dorothy Parker held court, but in any case, a locale that allows the creatives and the very rich to inspire and disillusion each other.
The play’s conceit is to bring to life literary luminaries of the twenties such as Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzerald, Dorothy Parker, and Hart Crane. What's more they've put the baker's dozen of actors portraying this "lost generation" on one of the tiniest stages in New York, and often all at once.
Sitting in the front row about four feet from the velvet-roped stage, I expected to be trampled. The actors were deft; it never happened, but the suspense lingered.
Boom : The Lost Generation is a group collaboration, with the Eyases ensemble using letters and texts to create their imaginative interpretation of the authors under their spotlight. As the play does not boast a single author's voice it also falls into no particular category. It’s not a musical revue, although there is some music, even dance. It's not a drama even though it is comprised of dramatic sequences. You could do worse than to call it a poem.
The scenes centering on the famed Scribner’s editor, Max Perkins as he interviewed his famous authors, are somewhat vaudevillian. However, they do give Boom some needed grounding and provide the imposing David Harbour a springboard for his evocative portrayal of F. Scott Fitzgerald. To my mind, Harbour’s performance superseded all other parts save Marsha Stephanie Blake, the sinuous Cleopatra-like woman whos redefined Zelda, Fitzgerald's wife in a highly sympathetic late 20th century context. E.T. Ganias was competent if not inspired as Ernest Hemingway. Andrew Welsh’s (or the company’s conception) of Thomas Wolfe, with his rolling eyes and other-worldly expressions, seemed highly exaggerated. Jessie McCormack, wistful and funny, did justice to the almost over-familiar Dorothy Parker.
The Eyeases Company is to be lauded for its imaginative stretch and the general excellence of its actors. Overall, the play too diffused to get beyond its surfaces. Still, once I got the characters straight, I had a great time.
For those of you not up on your "lost generation" litterati, here's a little who's who to help you get right into the swing of things:
Maxwell Perkins was known as "the dean of American editors" and instrumental in creating many literary careers which is why many young authors today dream of finding a Maxwell Perkins to nurture their first novel along. Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Wolf are the best known of the authors whose first manuscripts benefited from Perkins' invaluable editorial guidance. Fitzgerald's wife Zelda battled her entire adult life against mental illness but did write one well-known semi-autobiographical novel, Save Me a Waltz.
The Murphys, Gerald and Sarah were the quintessential jetsetters of their time. Malcolm Cowley was an editor, writer and translator best known for his association with New Republic and the The New Yorker and his wife Peggy's one book, The Last Days of Hart Crane was the product of an obsessive affair between her and Crane during the time he stayed at her home.
| BOOM: THE LOST GENERATION
Written and directed by the members of the Little Eyases Ensemble Theater
Based on letters and works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway and others
With, Andrew Welsh (Thomas Wolfe), Lester Grant (Malcolm Cowley, Stephen Guarino (Gerald Murphy, Aliza Waksal (Sara Murphy), Lester Grant (Malcolm Cowley) David Harbour (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Marsha Stephanie Blake (Zelda Fitzgerald), Jessie McCormack (Dorothy Parker), E. T. Ganias (Ernest Hemingway), Chris Dumont (John dos Passos) and Caleb Scott (Harold Hart Crane)
Set and Lighting: Fred Kolo
Sound: Jeffrey Pizzo
Pianist and Original Music: Matthew Cohen
Costumes: Gwyn Prentice
CSC, 136 E. 13th St. (279-4200)
5/01/98-5/17/98; opens 5/07/98