Bob Knuckle and Kayson Productions have created a little gem at the Dundas Little Theatre this spring. Hemingway and his Women plays one more weekend and is sure to entertain. It’s a strong show in every way: well written, well directed and well performed. In addition, it provides a plethora of information about the life and loves of Ernest Hemingway, but it doesn’t play like a stodgy documentary. Instead, it weaves us back and forth between past and present, loves and losses, reality and delusion until the curtain is finally fully pulled back, and like The Wizard of Oz, we see a small anxious man filled with doubt and self loathing.
Director Willard Boudreau dances his actors around the stage like a swirl of memories, and insures that the haunting underscore of guitar music always creeps in unnoticed: each time magically sweeping us away to Barcelona. This may seem like a small point, but the delicate and undetected use of lighting and sound is usually a sign of a well handled production. In addition, Knuckle’s play is a bit of challenge, because of the many destinations in Hemingway’s life and mind. Boudreau innovatively meets these challenges; therefore, the audience is able to follow this complex journey with ease.
Performances are high quality and no member of this team lacks talent. In terms of acting, this show is on par with the talent of any professional production. Questions arise more in the choice of interpretations, although it’s possible to accept this story on many levels. It can be a story of infidelity, a story of self destruction, a documentary of a classic writer and his times. You can accept it on any and all of these, but occasionally the choice of characterization fails to support the deeper congruency of the script. For example, Gail Edwards as Mary Welsh is Hemingway’s longest and last wife. She appears sensitive and damaged by Ernest’s cruel comments and tone in the opening. I question that as his final wife, she wouldn’t exhibit some coping skills. She couldn’t possibly have survived so long in his life by being so openly vulnerable to him. A tougher veneer would have shown the callouses of the years better.
In the end, I also questioned the interpretations of the young and old Ernest played by Matt Wilson and Graham Clements. Wilson’s young version showed no signs of manipulation with the many women he bedded. In fact, he seemed to accidentally be enchanted by women and had an “oooops” kind of presentation about his affairs. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the performance, but when coupled with Graham Clements melancholy, cranky but lovable, old version, I was left with this feeling that Hemingway was really a nice guy. The truth is he wasn’t. He hurt a lot of people. He was self indulgent and cruel. He humoured himself on more than one occasion in the script (and in life) by participating in or watching the death of an animal. Again performances were outstanding, but choices could have gone deeper. In the end, I wanted to see a monster behind the curtain. Instead, I just felt pity. This script offers more but check it out for yourself and see. It’s high quality and worth a night at the theatre. V
A drama by Robert Knuckle
Directed by Willard Boudreau
at Dundas Little Theatre
May 29, 30, 31* at 8:00 pm
*also matinee at 2:00 pm
Phone 905–628–0220 or 905–627–5266
or Bryan Prince Bookseller