Top Pick! – Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is in town. The legendary wife of the legendary writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a whirling Southern belle filled with ambition, drive, sophistication and emotional vulnerability, wrapped in a surprisingly tough shell.
Zelda is a conniving survivor, living by her wits, who could easily be a textbook case study for depression-based pharmaceuticals.
In this sparklingly creative production, Zelda is the last one (barely) standing in the lonely Oasis bar. Her pleas to the ever-patient “Barman” for more time before closing morph into kaleidoscopic scenes of her life. Mundy Spears plays Zelda like a frothy yet surprisingly strong damsel in perpetual distress. The character is very Tennessee Williams with traces of emotional fragility like Laura in Glass Menagerie, but with patches of Mama’s flint rock strength, and the desperately flirtatious tease of a Blanche DuBois. It’s a knock your socks off combination.
As I have noted in previous reviews of Venus Theater productions, I come away astonished by the perfect pitch casting and this is no exception. Where does founder Deborah Randall — tucked away in Laurel – find these people? Mundy Spears is breathtaking. She swoons, she sways, she twirls, and yes, she’s even a singer and dancer. Spears gets to the heart of Zelda, her tumultuous inner conflicts layered with her strong sense of self in a one-of a kind performance. As she glides effortlessly across the floor, Spears portrays Zelda’s roller coaster emotions with ease and skill, never falling into potential traps of maudlin missteps or surface based expression. Like an ice dancer approaching triple spins she is flawless in her portrayal and nails it each time. She is not to be missed. Davis Hasty plays multiple characters, including the Barman and the other half of the dynamic duo, because how could we have Zelda without the Fitz man himself? Hasty is artfully unassuming as he eases into the physical mannerisms of his various characters like he’s slipping into and out of a dinner jacket, even changing characters in mid-stride without missing a beat. The actors have an easy going rapport with each other and perfect timing. Their stances and movements intertwine as they clash about closing time for the bar, life decisions, or writing credits, culminating in several nicely rendered breakout pas de duex, self choreographed by the actors.
Kudos to the director, Lynn Sharp Spears, who keeps the tension just right between Zelda and her personified memories—Spears also does double and triple duty with scenic painting and design. Costumer Susie Graham has produced a magical wonder with Zelda’s gorgeous formfitting and shimmering silver dress which adds an emboldened flair to her movements. The last time I saw a dress that draped the actor’s expressive movements so well on stage was Valerie Harper’s turquoise bombshell number in Looped. Well, Zelda’s strapless dress works just as hard, and her beautiful dinner jacket in the second act adds a jaw-dropping twist. The other design elements also hit their mark– the wafting early jazz music design by Allison Daniels and the beat-perfect lighting cues by Kristin A. Thompson for the instantaneously fast character transitions. To think that all this wonder is tucked in a theater shack in Laurel. Who could have guessed it?
Still, excellent performance and production values mean little without an impressive script, and here is why the show earns a top pick. P.H.Lin had a daunting task, transposing the lives of these two fervent, larger than life artists into a satisfying dramatic production. Her Zelda reveals the artist’s inner life and journey with haunting passages for this often disregarded other half of the infamous writing duo. The segments feel authentic and the transitions flow wistfully in a melodic interplay of scenes poignant enough to leave you as breathless and fluttery as Zelda “discovering sweet rhythms,” who describes “feeling her demons locked in every chord.” Breathless.
The fact that such an accomplished work is receiving its world premiere at Venus attests to the company’s steady rise and appeal. Another sign is the high caliber of performers and directors who find their way to Venus Theater. Lee Mikeska Gardner will be one of the guest directors for another new work later in the season. Need I say more? The company deserves the acclaim it is receiving, the attention and a look see. You couldn’t start with a more fitting time than now with Zelda at the Oasis.
Zelda at the Oasis – TOP PICK!
Written by P.H. Lin
Directed by Lynn Sharp Spears
Produced by Venus Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson