The great writer Dorothy Parker always said she’d commit suicide if things got ugly. Ernest Hemingway told her he never would because his father had died that way. He considered his father a coward and his mother a harridan who drove his dad over the edge (is this why he spent a life claiming he hated women?).Nevertheless, years later, it was he who put a gun to his head and Parker who hung on to life, dying alone, impecunious and alcoholic, in a hotel room. Bravura and reality are different things. It’s this difference that writer Robert Knuckle is exploring in his play Hemingway and his Women.
We meet Hemingway near the end of his days, irascible, unserene, yet cared for by writer Mary Welsh, his fourth wife. A journalist arrives, requesting an interview about the great man’s women. The old man returns to his younger self and a tale begins. What follows, says Knuckle is sad, funny and very revealing.
Following Hemingway around the world, as Knuckle did for research, is in part hanging out in legendary bars. In Cuba you go to La Floridita, in Key West to Sloppy Joes and in Venice to Harry’s Bar. Do we feel he lived in the age of giants? Four wives… countless women… a kind of literary Henry VIII, looking for a potency that ironically only he could provide. Only one wife, the great war correspondent Martha Gellhorn asked him for a divorce.
Why did we call him Papa in the end? He was in no way paternal although in Karsh’s iconic photo of an almost glistening Hemingway in a fisherman knit sweater, he appears so. People wanted to love this guy because his prose in its starkness catches the raw bone of suffering, and the exquisiteness and cruelty of bodies in motion. He talked about grace under pressure. He wanted guys to be manly and strong and washed clean with sea salt and steeped in good scotch. Bravura. He wrote best when life was like war. He loved best when a new gorgeous woman brought reprieve.
Knuckle is the perfect man to get into Hemingway’s head. He’s a guy’s guy whose written novels about true crime and race horses Can he decode Hemingway’s demons? Was the great adventurer, sportsman, and war correspondent not able to screw his courage to the sticking place when it came to his personal life? Was he ruined by alcohol or the inheritor of depression, which felled his father and later his granddaughter (Margaux Hemingway). And did he turn every woman he met into a footnote? Knuckle refuses to show his hand before opening night. An award winning playwright, he is bound to take us on a deeply interesting ride. V
A drama by Robert Knuckle
Directed by Willard Boudreau
at Dundas Little Theatre
May 22, 23, 24* at 8:00 pm
May 29, 30, 31* at 8:00 pm
*also matinees at 2:00 pm
Phone 905-628-0220 or 905-627-5266
or Bryan Prince Bookseller