The Last Flapper ends when Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald leaves the building. Oh, I’m not giving away anything: she left it many years before the play began. The “jazz age” author/ dancer/ socialite/ general fruit loop and wife of author/ playboy/ alcoholic F. Scott Fitzgerald lived a life on the fringe of reality, but here in the last years of her life, she has taken—how should we say it?—“the dive.”
It is 1948. F. Scott is in a nice plot in Rockville; the world of the flapper and the expatriate has washed down the drain like a case of liquor during a police raid. Zelda is no longer the charming belle of the 1920’s. She is lonely and schizophrenic, living out her years in a sanitarium.
Today, the doctor is out, called away, as Zelda figures, to the golf course. Had he been able to attend his regular session, perhaps Zelda’s day would go by differently, but after entering the empty office, the whimsical old dancer launches into a session of self-examination.
It is a dance — physical and rhetorical — around and over the many episodes of her life. Kate Erin Gibson dances around the stage throughout the performance, not so much chewing the scenery as abusing it with her character’s mania. No part of the set is safe from Gibson as she stands on chairs, desks, and scattered sheaves of paper as Zelda tries frantically to impress her unseen audience. Whoever she is talking to, it is not the crowd in the seats. She faces and speaks to every point on the stage except the real audience.
If Zelda’s madness leaves the audience with many questions, they will understand that she did not necessarily live an unfortunate life. Much of it was indeed maddening. Raised in Montgomery, Alabama by an aristocratic family, she was taught that a lady “never crosses her ‘limbs,’ never lets her back touch the back of her chair, and never lets her bare feet touch the ground.” Between her mother’s strictures, and her father’s distance, Zelda is pummeled by this overly genteel society.
In 1918, she meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, an Army Lieutenant stationed nearby. Against her family’s desires, she runs off and marries him, moving first to New York, then to Paris. Away from her family and past, she transforms from lacy southern belle to thoroughly modern flapper . Yet she finds the world she is running to is every bit as destructive as the one she ran from.
As the wife of an alcoholic with some serious identity issues, she is abused and humiliated, often just for fun. Her husband berates both her writing and dancing, but regularly plagiarizes her work. He goes as far as stealing her diaries and working them into his books. This hurts worst of all, yet their many confrontations do nothing to resolve their marital angst.
With all the ground this drama covers, it cannot avoid the many perils that face a one-person play. Without other characters to “bounce” her dialogue off, Gibson’s delivery can often get awkward. One common occurrence is after expressing a deep thought, the character will laugh out loud to lighten it up and allow him or her to move on to the next thought. This happens several times in the play. Other times, the actor will deliver the dialogue much too fast, trying to keep the audience interested. This happens often in this play. William Luce’s play has some good lines in it, but it lacks the natural pauses and easy flow that mark good monologues.
The Last Flapper has 5 performances at Fort Fringe – The Shop, 607 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets
The Last Flapper
By William Luce
Produced by Kate Erin Gibson
Directed by Carmela Lanza-Weil
Reviewed by Steve Hallex