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The Pink IS the Pony

Our playwright Andrea Lepcio begins “Looking for the Pony” with this parable:

“There once were two children who could see the bright side of any situation. One day, they are put in a room filled with manure. Hours later they are discovered laughing, scooping up the manure, digging underneath. “What on earth are you doing,” the children are asked. With beaming smiles they answer, “All this poop, there has to be a pony in here somewhere.”

“Looking for the Pony” is a beautiful piece of work.  Tight.  Great cast.  Great director.  One of the central figures is battling terminal breast cancer.

As producer I get to really get out of the room and promote this.  But, how?  I thought it would be easy.  I mean it is breast cancer awareness month.  Some people are really upset about this.  People like Fran Visco and Barbara Ehrenreich.  Maybe it’s all too easy.  Buying pink.  Pink kitchen acoutrements.  Pink snacks.  Ref’s with pink whistles.

Pink.

What does it invoke?  Pepto Bismol.  If something is upsetting just have a little pink and everything’s gonna be just fine.  Pink.  The Panther.  That’s fun.  Pink.  Princess.  The extreme epidemic that I like to refer to as EPS (Eternal Princess Syndrome) plagues our society.  It fuels the yacht’s of plastic surgeons and keeps the gut sucking pantie industry in the black.  It robs our entire culture of the wisdom that comes with women who have LIVED and earned the lines to prove it.

But, what if it never happened?  The pink.  Would we be having the discussions at all?

For example, if Eve Ensler didn’t get the country saying the word “vagina” outloud, would it ever be a topic of conversation?  The downside in running a woman’s theatre is the perception that if you have a vagina, say you have a vagina, and stand in any sort of pool of light while both having and promoting your vagina, the “woman’s theatre” box is ticked off the theatre list.  This is an extended contract covering a 57 mile radius of said pool of light for the next 15 months, at least.  So, I’m kind of sunk over here trying to produce plays featuring women.  Why do that when people are chanting “vagina” on college campus’ to the North and the South?  You see my dilemma?

So, if I buy a pink spatula am I checking off the “cancer” box?  If my snack food is in a pink bag have I negated the real and necessary cancer research in a 57 mile radius for the following 15 months?  If so.  I’m am a terrible criminal.  AWFUL!

And, who is the pink accountant anyway?  Where is this money really going?  Is there accountability or is this just a marketing spin to sell more product?  We need answers.  Lots and lots of answers.  But with the plague of EPS running rampant the only people asking the questions seem to be personified as evil forces before they can even make their arguments.

I begin to think that the ribbon movements are maybe starting points for rituals and conversations that don’t yet exist.  Symbolic doorways sponsored by JoAnn’s Fabrics with floral arrangements and stringed quartets welcoming us.  Waiters in bow ties and tuxedo shirts offer us canopay’s off of silver platters.  Somewhere Oprah is laughing and arranging for a lovely boat ride so that everyone might enjoy the vibrant sunset and waterfall spray of ribbon-island.

Nice.  Delusional.  But, very nice.

And, what about the other diseases that are under-researched because women’s health issues continue to be neglected?

There’s Mary Fischer who was the first woman diagnosed with AIDS and had to be a guinea pig when it came to prescription dosages.  No research.  No research on women, forget about menopausal women.  They almost killed her with the meds.

Or Gilda Radner.  She kept going to the Dr. and telling them that she wasn’t feeling right and they kept telling her she was depressed and giving her anti-depressants.  (By the way, how many women are on anti-depressants, and why isn’t THAT being addressed?)  By the time Gilda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer the tumor was the size of a grapefruit.  Even then she tried positive visualizations and energy work.  And, out of that grew Gilda’s Club.

Is that less valuable than S.H.A.R.E., because it doesn’t have its own ribbon?  Or is it more important because it was started by a celebrity?  How do we break all of this down?

I chose this play because it’s a great play!  That’s the truth.

But, what does this topic mean to me personally?

A lot, actually.

Cancer first affected me when I was five years old.  My Mom was divorcing my Dad and we stayed with her best friend and her best friends son.  His name was Jimmy.  He was four.  We were bathed together, fed together.  We each took one of his Grandfather’s knees on every Peanuts holiday special.  We fought.  We cursed like sailors.  He played with trucks in the mud.  I got to go off to kindergarten.  He got to stay in his pajama’s all day and watch cartoons.  He got to sit on the countertops.  People were always holding him.  He was so special.

He died.

Cancer.

I’ve written him into many of my plays.  This was 1971.  There was no such thing as grief counseling.  He was just gone.  When I asked my Dad where he went he told me that God needed him in heaven.  I set all of that to the tune of the Jefferson’s theme song at some point and thought he was in a de-luxe apartment in the sky with a dry cleaning landlord named God.

That was leukemia.  I lived.  He didn’t.

Life.

It’s here, until it’s not.

Then came breast cancer.  First my Aunt Lorraine.  She’s the only Sunday School teacher I’ve ever had.  A kind and gentle soul.  Beautiful woman.  Just always there.  My Stepfathers Aunt.  Lentil Soup.  Conversations in Greek that I didn’t understand.  Incense in a Greek church that almost made me hurl but kept me completely fixated and focused somehow.  A husband who loved her and built a church with his bare hands.  One time when I was 7 he quickly opened the front door of his home when I knocked and yanked a loose tooth out of my mouth before I knew what had happened, then he shut the door and pretended nothing had happened.  Funny man.  Fairly conservative, very religious, always smiling.  Colorful people.  Loving people.  Good people.

There was the Christmas when Aunt Lorraine was near the end.  They kept her in a small room by herself with lots of tubes and such.  She no longer talked.  She seemed barely conscious, if at all.  Beeping sounds.  The lentil soup was not the same.  The baklava went stale.  She was gone.

She died.

Cancer.

Then, there was Mrs. Paton.  She was the Mother of my best friend in High School.  Another kind and giving soul.  She’d take us to the mall for hours and hours.  When we talked about Soap Opera characters and love affairs she’d blush and gently reprimand the zestiness of it all over McDonald’s sundaes.  The woman had saintly patience and drove a little bit like Penelope Pitstop.  She was Scottish and would get dressed up with her husband on special occasions to go out dancing.  She had immaculate appearance.  They both did.  They built a pub inside of their house.  It was 1984.

High School graduation.  Mrs. Paton waited in an air conditioned car.  By now the cancer had spread into her lungs.  But, we didn’t know that.  She didn’t want us to.  She walked to the fence at the “P’s” so she could watch her daughter walk the stage at her graduation and receive her diploma.  Then, she stayed there in the heat.  And, she waited for the “R’s”.  And, she watched me too.  And, I won’t ever forget that.

We went off to Sr. week at the beach.  Even though Mrs. Paton’s daughter, my BFF-before texting, offered to stay with her if she was feeling bad.  She insisted we go and have a good time.

We did.

When we came back she was only with us for a few more days.  She was having a lot of trouble breathing.  I remember watching her lying there on her bed and she had something to tell me.  It was labored and I leaned in.  And she asked that I watch out for her daughter.  I said, of course I would and I told her that everything was going to be fine.

I believe it was a Wednesday night.  I was sleeping over and Mrs. Paton had gone to the hospital.  Mr. Paton came back and called both of his children into a separate room to tell them their Mother had passed.  Just like that.

She died.

Cancer.

Life.

It’s here, until it’s not.

I’ve never worn pink for either of them.  Instead, I think I took the high road on occasions when I could have done things that would have gotten me into a lot of trouble.  Because, I got to know them and out of respect for their time here on earth, I decided to honor mine too.  If I threw it all away, it would somehow dishonor them.  And, believe me, there have been moments in my younger life where I would have easily thrown it all away.  But, I get to be here.  I have to make that count somehow.

Because I’ll tell you something about all three of those people.  If they were here now, they would be laughing.  There’s no doubt in my mind about that.

I think that Andrea has written an incredible piece of theatre.  And, on a personal level I am SO GRATEFUL that she has given me this opportunity to produce it.  To celebrate and honor them.

Because cancer kills.

It’s no joke.

I don’t care what crayon anyone uses to color it.

I guess my primary goal is to give as many people as I possibly can the experience of this play.  Carnation pink is just fine with me when it comes to this.

Why?  Why not launch off of marketing that’s already been done?  I think I’m okay with that in this instance.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know I’m not on an Oprah boat offshore of ribbon island.

This play is brilliant.  And, the goal is to get people to see THAT.  I don’t know how Andrea has done it but she has captured the spirit of the person-cancer aside.  She has captured that nurturing soul that seems too good for this world, almost.  The aspect of spirit that has kept me from checking out, Andrea has captured that midflight.  She feels real.  SO REAL.  So true.  So honest.

I miss them.  All of them.  And I thank Andrea for giving me a glimpse of them again.  For letting me feel that spirit breath in a room, if only for an hour or so.  Amazing.  For giving us permission to laugh, and to love, and to cry.  Because many of us think to be strong is to stifle all of that.  And, they deserve remembering.  And okay, celebrating.  Not the disease.  But, the people.

If I had never met these three people I, quite honestly, would be a darker person if I were still here at all.  I know that sounds crazy.  But, they showed me heart.  They gave me play.  They gave me trust.  And, they gave me a lifetime supply of love without even trying.  And, I wouldn’t trade knowing them-even if it means experiencing losing them-ever.

Not ever.

We need to be talking about this so that it is completely out of the shadows and into the light.  We need accountability in the health care industry.

Women are not disposable.

Coffins don’t come in pink.

Having said all of that, I have an incredible play to produce.  By any means necessary.

I’ve been thinking about these subjects a lot lately.  A whole lot.  As I embark on Cameron’s third text, “Finding Water” in the trilogy of creative recovery, I’m left with my thoughts and her assignments.  My pen and my keyboard once again leer at me.

“The Artist’s Way” was recommended to me in the mid-nineties by an actor.  I’ve since completed that text, writing assignments and all- eight times.  A few times I guided artists circles through them.  Sometimes I did it with one other person sometimes groups of 10 or 15.  These texts work for me.  And, “Vein of Gold” was perhaps the most difficult writing challenge I’ve ever endeavored to accomplish.  It meant going back over my life 5 years at a time in chapters.  It was really a kind of excavation.  It uprooted everything and shifted the floor of my existence.  I say that because the sky rarely changed, and when it did it was kaliedoscopically miraculous and beautiful.  Poverty was scattered on the floor but wealth was sprinkled across the horizon in a seeming neverending milkyway of abundance.  So for me, the question of the day is always about where I set my sights.  Wealth or poverty? High or low?  Up or down?

Isn’t it interesting how life is a spiral?  Things come round and round and our best power is to go up the spiral and not fall down inside of it’s Persephonic abyss.

The past can haunt us.

When I was growing up I spent summers in a wealthy part of Jersey.  My grandmother lived next to the Pfeiffer’s, of the bakery.  And, they lived in a mansion.  I played there.  Then, I went home to my townhouse, or apartment, or modest two level child of divorce life in the burbs of Prince Georges County, Maryland.  I watched my Grandmother attempt to climb the social ladder.  Marry the mayor.  Feel important.  Cocktails at 6.  I watched a lot.  I saw my paternal family sell land and squander money on sportscars and self-importance.  I can’t really explain what these adult child behaviors look like inside of a person.  Especially through the eyes of an actual child.  I can only say there’s a corrosion there.  Something happens and this birthright of joyful bliss turns into a dark kind of black hole.  And, not only can it squelch the spirit of the body it inhabits but it has a kind of forcefield.  It becomes it’s own chaotic soup of insanity.  Or, in the descriptive of Cameron:

“Crazymakers are those personalities that create storm centers. They are often charismatic, frequently charming, highly inventive and powerfully persuasive. And for the creative person in their vicinity, they are enormously destructive.

“Crazymakers create dramas–but seldom where they belong. Crazymakers are often blocked creatives themselves. Afraid to effectively tap their own creativity, they loath to allow that same creativity in others. It makes them jealous. It makes them threatened. It makes them threatened at your expense.”

I find myself staring at the floor too much lately.  There is a sense of devastation that can seem overwhelming.  I think it has to do with all of the crisis in the world.  With individuals choosing not to grow.  A general air of depletion and desperation.

Besides.  Things are tight.  People are relying on me.  I’m scraping my Company by.  And, these people that make up my Company are moving everything.  They are creating.  They are trusting.  I want to give them the world!  So, my eyes lift up.  They are bringing works to light that have never  been given a chance before.  So, I -once again- pull my eyes heavenward no matter the surface under my feet.  Maybe too much Casey Cassum as a kid?

And now, each time I look down there’ s a bit of stardust sprinkled among the clay.  Today, for instance-I reached into the mailbox to find a small envelope with a small card inside.  It also contained a check for $50.  It said, “Life is pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us.” -Sir Thomas Browne.  Then on the inside it read, “Deb, Go set the world on fire.”

Or yesterday.  Two envelopes.  One anonymous for $24.  And another for $75.  It came with a hand written note from a woman I have not seen or spoken to in more than three years.  She wrote:  “Dear Deb:  I got your email about Venus’s financial difficulties.  I’m so sorry to hear that.  The economy has been rough all around.  I can’t help with raising money because of my job, but I hope this will help a little bit.  Hang in there!”

Or two days before that.  I ran into someone who used to bring her daughter to my BabyPlay classes and she pulled out her checkbook and wrote a $100 donation on the spot.

I never wanted to become needy.  But, that’s not what this is.  I begin to understand that the value of the work at Venus deserves so much support, respect, and acknowledgement.  It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the cutting edge plays that are mounted and the groups of people that make them appear.

What I’m talking about here is job creation in a suffering economy.  I’m talking about telling stories that deserve their day in the sun and fortifying a community while doing that.

Yesterday, I met with a photographer because the Laurel Leader is doing a story on our cushion fundraiser.  The story will be out tomorrow.  And, Marilyn Johnson has begun the prototype and had the first cushion ready for yesterday’s shoot, even though the idea is barely a week old.  This is what I’m saying.  After having been surrounded by crazymakers I think I’ve FINALLY learned, the more we stop doing their dance the more we become surrounded with a true sense of creative family.

In a 36 hour period, I had five lawyers helping to draft one document.  Two playwrights standing for Venus actively.  An old friend who is very commercially successful in TV, film, and Broadway connecting me with a Broadway producer.

Maybe, wealth isn’t always about the huge funding check.  I begin to understand that helplessness is an illusion kept alive by unkind people.  Who we are and what we have to give is ENOUGH.  It’s enough to launch new works.  It’s enough to give us a room of our own.

It’s enough to accomplish dreams.

Maybe, one day, each of us who has been beaten down by the crazymaker will look up instead of casting our eyes down.  Maybe, one day, we will decide that they don’t matter.  And, that their pain is not more important than our joy.  Their need to control in no way begins to come close to the respective callings and the talents bestowed upon each of us to land on a fulfilling life.

I can’t control a world that has a hard time appreciating the arts.  And, I can’t control women or men who have decided to hate themselves and take that rage out on any and everyone in their path.  What I can control is me.  My leadership style.  My vision.  The Company my Company keeps.  And, in that, I am the wealthiest woman alive.

I’m only typing right now because I promised my friend Carolyn I would match her daily blogging day for day for five days.  Busy times.  Tonight we audition a lot of actors for Venus Theatre.  One is a crowned beauty queen.  This is a most exciting evening and encounter because the playwright meets the director tonight too.  Our playwright this time is Robin Rice Lichtig and she and her husband Joe came into town yesterday.  I hung out with them last night and we got to know one another.  Then I saw them hiking the river this morning.  Delightful people.  Delightful time.  After telling my fish story last night Robin was now pitching a play about doing a play about a fish and how the villian (me) has to be stopped before she destroys the world.  It cracked me up.

I’ve slowly been thinking about all of the living playwrights I’ve had the great honor to work with.  They are the most incredible people.  And Robin, as well at PH Lin who we produced in March did their masters studies with Milan Stitt.  As did our final playwright of the year Andrea Lepcio.

Venus had read a play of Robin’s years back called, “Embracing the Undertoad” at an art gallery in DC as part of the wRighting Woman Reading Series.  Robin also knows works from their infancies by other playwrights that I happened to produce full out in the Venus space.  Works by Vanda, and Carolyn Gage, and so on and so forth.  I guess that we are drawn to one another eventually and that there truly is an artistic family out there.  This goes back to my dear friend Carolyn for whom I tap these keys.  I first read a play of Carolyn’s as part of a war protest in front of the White House in 2002.  It was called, “The Rules of the Playground”.  I went on to read more of her plays publicly and then to produce “The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women” and “Ugly Ducklings”.

The first time I saw Carolyn she was performing her Joan piece at UVA.  Another playwrighting friend named Julianne Homokay was dramturging at a regional theatre at the time and she said I needed to see this Carolyn.  So we met and we watched.

Carolyn is brave.  And, she doesn’t apologize.  And, her heart is tremendous.  She is truly a sister to me and I would do anything for her.  The moment I saw her play Joan was the beginning of a growing relationship with a woman I would later come to know not only as a dear friend, artistic sister, great writer, brilliant performer, founder of three separate theatres, but she will go down in my own record book as the best read human being I’ve ever met.  When it comes to biographies of women in general and lesbians in particular, I believe it is impossible to meet a more well read person.

So, dear Carolyn I bow to you and say…KEEP CREATING!!!!

Okay. So I was talking with a playwrighting friend and we decided to blog every day this week. Where to begin?

photo by C. Stanley Photography

Venus Theatre closed “In the Goldfish Bowl” two weeks ago. It was an incredible process. The actors were amazing and the play told a great story. It was written by Kay Rhoads and it took place on a Texas death row unit. Four women. World Premiere.

It was one of those processes that faced a new challenge each week. Illnesses, actor drop out, and so on and so forth. But, the amazing thing was watching these actors pull together and tell the story.

Our Stage Manager John was running both boards and so, for the first time, I was able to not watch over every show. In fact, I watched the first couple of performances and then the final performance. I found it to be very moving.

We did throw a fish on stage though. This met with great controversy. I was accused of traumatizing and abusing animals. A gossip ring was launched in ignorant circles, acupuncturists wanted to beat me up, and so on and so forth. Eventually, we posted a notice in the lobby explaining that we never used the same fish twice and that we never killed a fish on stage. Also, that they were rescues out of a feeder tank, and that they were set free in the wild every week.

Well, even this met with great questioning. When you set them free, will they be safe there? This raises the question of accountability. Am I responsible for overseeing the food chain?

Here’s the thing. They were bred to be feeder fish. Overcrowded in a feeder tank in pet stores all over the place. Usually filled with disease in advance and definitely overstressed. Then, dumped into a tank with a predator to await their own demise. Sound familiar?

Stats show that every day three women are killed by their domestic partner and 600 are assaulted. Just last week four women were rescued from being trafficked as sex slaves 5 miles from the theatre. The point of “In the Goldfish Bowl” was to show the helplessness of woman trapped in the bowl and also as the fish out of water trying desperately to survive a terminal situation.

In doing this show, I did save some fish that otherwise would have never seen nature again. Also, almost all of our fight choreography time went to the fish. How to throw it without damaging it at all.

I don’t miss having to oversee a tank full of fish with no stomachs and treat them with fish-zoloft. But, I would like to think that everyone who had a criticism was either Kosher or vegan and did not wear any makeup tested on animals.  I also hope they were equally concerned for the animals that went into the bologna onstage. Do we really live in an out-of-sight/out-of-mind culture to such a degree?

I do appreciate the concern for the animals. But, the hardest part was looking at how little worry went out for the women.

I read a story about a Senior Petstore owner in the UK that was put under house arrest for selling a goldfish to a minor and not taking a bird to the vet early enough. Anyone see the disparity here? Real women are wiped out daily. So, I wonder why it’s so easy to care for a feeder fish and so difficult to care about women.

Why is it so easy to blame me for being cruel to animals, even though I’ve rescued them from the time I was a little girl, and so difficult to look at the human story and feel compassion. REALLY FEEL IT.  Am I fingerpointing here? We vowed not to do that in this 5 day challenge. But, I guess I’m still in venting mode.

Maybe the problem with telling the stories of women in theatre – the reason it remains a constant battle- has to do with the ability (or lack thereof) to care about them as human beings in our culture.

I want to understand.

Lynn Sharp Spears writes:

“Senses are the physiological methods of perception.” How we interpret and communicate what we perceive is what makes each of us unique. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s manner of communicating her world view is what made her irresistible to F. Scott, who in turn made her the darling of the Jazz Age. These same perceptions are what landed her in 8 different sanitariums over the course of her brief life. Zelda’s way of speaking was a combination of the Deep South and her African American nannies. This unusual, to both the Swiss and Northern doctors in any case, way of communicating, on top of her lack of fluency in French, caused the doctors to interpret her speech and behavior as schizophrenic.  The ensuing treatments caused multiple problems, not the least of which was eczema. More recent professional opinions of her case say she was manic depressive. On a positive note, her stays in the sanitariums afforded her a place to create her beautiful, powerful paintings, and there she wrote her novels Save Me The Waltz in 1932 and Caesar’s Things, which was unfinished in 1948 but will soon be published. In “Zelda At The Oasis” P.H. Lin has given us an opportunity to enter a possible encounter between Zelda and a Barman, where different objects send her to memories of the choices she had to make on her too short journey on this earth.  Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald died at the age of 48 in a fire at the Highlands Sanitarium in Asheville, NC.

Adam and Eve  by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Had she not been drugged, and if the door to her room had not been locked, she might have escaped. I want to thank Deb Randall and P.H. Lin for the opportunity to discover this brilliant, tragic, amazingly fearless, heroine; Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

Zelda and Scott.

One week from today we open a play which tells the story of Zelda Fitzgerald.  I was drawn to this play for many reasons. But, it seems there is always something of the unknown that pulls me one way or the other artistically.  Maybe its this quest to find my artistic gender heritage as an individual.  Maybe a deep need to tell stories of interesting women who are NOT put on a pedestal or marginalized.  Maybe.  Maybe.  All of it.

A personal loss yesterday meant we were to attend a funeral.  My Spouse did not pre-load his Garmin with the address.  For some reason, he printed a yahoo map and I was to navigate.  We were in Rockville and we were turned around.  I looked up from the printed directions to see banners with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s name up and down the street.  I looked over my right shoulder and realized we were beside the final resting place of this most notorious couple.  Talk about timing!

Something to process. Chills ensued.

Zelda and Scott are buried together in Rockville, MD.  They never lived there, but Scott’s father did.  The final monument reads:

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald

September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940

His Wife

Zelda Sayre

July 24, 1900 – March 10, 1948

“SO WE BEAT ON, BOATS AGAINST THE CURRENT, BORNE BACK CEASELESSLY INTO THE PAST” -The Great Gatsby

The quote is the final sentence in “The Great Gatsby”.

Zelda found Scott to be too poor to marry at first.  He was smitten with her.  Many were.  She was the “it” girl.  Later called the “Golden Girl”.  The “Original Flapper”.  “This Side of Paradise” was published by Scribner’s in 1920.  Money was no longer an issue it appeared so, the engagement resumed, which led to the marriage, which led to the birth of their first and only child on October 26, 1921.  “The Great Gatsby” was published in 1925.  By then, they had spent much time in Europe and bellied up to the bar with the American expatriate community in Paris, including (but definitely not limited to) Hemingway.

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Zelda began to notice a theme of plagiarism in the work of Scott:

“[i]t seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home” (Zelda Fitzgerald: The Collected Writings, 388).

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Here lies the powerful conflict in the play we are producing and in that specific world – the larger more epic questions arise.  What does it means to be a female artist in this world and how does that collide with traditional roles and expectations?  On some level, do we women all eventually become either mad or hollow? Is that the final choice?  It can’t be.

Zelda was a woman born in 1900 with great gifts, and into a family that could provide her hearts desire.  She was torn between the traditional role of the good-wife-who-lands-the-best husband, and eccentric-artist-who-expresses-the-unknown.  She was exploding with expression.  Any kind of expression.  Her paintings are amazing works.  And, she wrote a play entitled, “Scandelabra”, which I have yet to read.  It was difficult for her to get published in her day.  She was also a dancer.  Accepted into a Russian ballet troupe at the ripe age of 27!

Scott was working on his fourth novel in the late 1920’s to pay for their high lifestyle in New York.  Zelda’s schizophrenia ultimately kicked in with little release in 1930.  In 1932 she checked herself into Shepherd Pratt Sanitarium in Towson, MD. Scott rented a place there in the suburbs called, “La Paix” where he continued work on the Dick Diver story.  This is thought to be a telling of his trials with Zelda-well, everything is thought to be that.  She had never stopped writing.  After handing her novel to Scott and waiting too long for response she appealed to Scribners for feedback.  They offered her publication after the first read.  By this time Scott was a full fledged alcoholic and a very controlling husband.  It can be argued that he wanted to “protect” Zelda from the world and from her own internal demons. The two defined the jazz age.  Some would say they launched it.  He romanticized her and I don’t know that she entirely disliked it.

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Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), Fitzgerald’s second collection of shorts contains one of his most famous short stories “The Diamond As Big As the Ritz”. His second novel, also adapted to the screen, was published the same year, The Beautiful and The Damned (1922);

“I love it,” she said frankly. It was impossible to doubt her. …. At her happiness, a gorgeous sentiment welled into his eyes, choked him up, set his nerves a-tingle, and filled his throat with husky and vibrant emotion. There was a hush upon the room. The careless violins and saxophones, the shrill rasping complaint of a child near by, the voice of the violet-hatted girl at the next table, all moved slowly out, receded, and fell away like shadowy reflections on the shining floor–and they two, it seemed to him, were alone and infinitely remote, quiet. Surely the freshness of her cheeks was a gossamer projection from a land of delicate and undiscovered shades; her hand gleaming on the stained table-cloth was a shell from some far and wildly virginal sea….–Ch. 2

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Our play also deals with very different writing styles.  The traditional linear form and the swirling content that is often connected to the female writer.  The play does not follow a linear timeline either.  We spin and swirl.  I was struck while watching a rehearsal the other day with this dialogue exchange:

BARMAN

I was playing this wedding? And all the Father of the Bride wanted to hear was…

(He hums the opening to Minuet in G)

The problem was, the piano had this really slow key. You know, the kind that, once you push it down, it takes forever to come back up again?

ZELDA

Not the…!

(He points “you’ve got it.” She giggles)

How do you play the Minuet in G, when you’re missing the main attraction?

BARMAN

You transpose everything up a half. And improvise.

“You transpose everything up a half.  And improvise.”

Welcome to the world of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

“Most people hew the battlements of life from compromise, erecting their impregnable keeps from judicious submissions, fabricating their philosophical drawbridges from emotional retractions and scalding marauders in the boiling oil of sour grapes. ” Save Me the Waltz, 1932

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Scott was enraged about the publication of Zelda’s “Save Me the Waltz”.  He was able to speak with Scribners and make edits on Zelda’s work before it was published.  In what I believe to be a far more devastating blow to his wife, he spoke to Zelda’s Dr’s and made it clear that she was not to cover his “material” in her writing anymore.  Meaning their relationship and specifically their time in Europe-it is believed.  Very soon after, in 1934, he penned “Tender is the Night”.  A follow up to “The Great Gatsby” and a counter to “Save Me the Waltz”.  Readers waited 9 years to behold this volume.  It was received with mixed reviews.

“Save Me the Waltz” is currently in the lobby of Venus Theatre awaiting silent auction.  At the age of 32 Zelda was legitimately published!  Clearly, she would say that Scott had published her words much sooner.  Now, in the year 2010, much of her work is published and available.  How fortunate are the readers of this day?

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P.H. Lin has Zelda saying the following:

I don’t do tears, Jelly Bean. Tears only make you rust. And when you’re a dancer, as am I? You want to stay mobile. Always. Mobility is the prime necessity… if you hope to function. And be considered remarkable, inside or out.

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As for Scott, well you probably know a lot about him that I haven’t even mentioned here.  He’s a legend.  His drinking caught up with him.  Mixed with what he insisted were attacks of tuberculosis.  He had his first heart attack in 1940 in Schwab’s Drug Store.  By then he was living in Hollywoood and had a relationship with Sheilhah Graham.  He (I SWEAR!) lived on North Laurel Avenue.  His apartment was two flights up so he moved in with Graham only one block away on N. Hayword Ave, she had a ground level.  The two attended the film, “This Thing Called Love”.  Upon leaving Scott felt dizzy and bemoaned that people probably assumed he was drunk.

The next morning he clutched the mantel and fell to the floor with his second, and this time deadly, heart attack.  Graham quickly sought out the building manager, Mr. Culver, and he gave her the final news.  (Culver was the founder of Culver City.)

Scotts remains were shipped to Bethesda, MD.  His funeral service was in Baltimore attended by 20-30 people.  His daughter Scottie and Dorothy Parker were two of the small number in attendance.  Parker was overheard quoting from “The Great Gatsby”, “the poor son-0f-a-bitch”.  Scott was originally buried in Rockville Union Cemetery.

As for Zelda, well she always signed herself into sanitariums and out when she felt well enough to take on the world.  The “Original Flapper” spent time at Shepherd Pratt in Baltimore/Townson.  It was a reputable facility.  Still is.  But, you can imagine the stigma.  Then and now.  She had a history of mental illness running through her Father’s side of the family.  And, it did catch up with her.  Scott definitely had his flaws, and their financial ups and downs were almost as notorious as their extra-marital love affairs.  But, there was something to it all.  Some kind of love/hate compassionate rivalry that kept them all ablaze throughout most of their lifetimes.

Zelda was from the South and she ended up back in the South in her final sanitarium.  In 1936 she signed into the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, NC.  She and Scott last saw one another in 1938.  She painted.  She painted a lot.  And, she was working on her second novel.  After 12 years in Ashland, in 1948, there was a fire in the hospital.  Zelda died in that fire.  She was 48.

It wasn’t until 1975 that the remains of the couple were moved to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville, MD.  A woman named Frances Lanahan “worked to overturn the Archdiocese of Baltimore ruling that Fitzgerald died a non practicing Catholic, so that he could be at rest at the Roman Catholic cemetery where his father’s family was laid.”  Well, I understand that traditional Catholics don’t believe in divorce so I s’pose there wasn’t much debate about Zelda being moved right along with him.  That’s my assumption anyway.

Both Zelda and Scott each left this world in the midst of writing their next great novel, respectively.

“Advice From a Caterpillar” by Zelda Fitzgerald.