All That Jazz

By Ross von Metzke

Originally published on Advocate.com February 20 2009 12:00 AM ET

At an hour and 50
minutes,
The Jazz Age

teeters just around that length of a play in need of some sort
of intermission -- just when the "mad dash for the
bathroom" pangs sweep over your body, the play comes to a
screeching halt. And it's that sort of frantic energy that
makes Allan Knee's high-pitched piece such a success (thanks,
in large part, to director Michael Matthews's quick pacing and
the in-your-face performances of a trio of able actors).

The story of authors
Ernest Hemingway (Jeremy Gabriel) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Luke
MacFarlane of TV's
Brothers & Sisters

) and their unusual, codependent -- and, at turns,
bordering on sexual -- relationship takes the audience on a
fast-paced ride through the highs and lows of the Jazz Age, a
period from 1918 to 1929 when Fitzgerald's career flourished,
then fell apart, and Hemingway clawed his way from relative
obscurity to great American author.

The pair make for an
odd couple -- Hemingway, masculine and secure; Fitzgerald, at
times euphoric and childlike, but often crippled by a lifelong
battle with alcoholism and an overwhelming need to top his
life's great work,
The Great Gatsby.

Along for the ride is
their female foil, Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (Heather Prete)
-- platinum blond, oozing sexuality -- the love of
Scott's life, he says, though the two spend the bulk of the
play building each other up just to rip it right back down
again.

Scott's real
fascination is with Hemingway. The two box, drink, talk
literature -- they even compare dick sizes in one of the play's
more heated moments. They can't be together, but they can't
seem to stay apart for long. They are the real loves of each
other's lives, though -- at least in
The Jazz Age

-- for the most part, it's strictly platonic.

The Jazz Age Luke MacFarlane Heather Prete x390 (The Blank) | ADVOCATE.COM

Both Gabriel and
MacFarlane are up to the challenge of running all systems go in
a relatively small black box theater. The play requires that
each actor roar above a three-person jazz band (the talented
Ian Whitcomb and his Bungalow Boys, who play throughout the
show) without going too far over the top. Their conversations
are intense -- Gabriel the able man's man while MacFarlane
channels the sort of feminine exuberance that fits him so well
on
Brothers & Sisters

and manages to refine it for an intimate space.

The third wheel, Prete
is faced with a difficult task -- make your trademark whiny,
sexpot southern belle sympathetic. It takes her a while (mostly
because her character is the least fleshed out of the three),
but when Zelda's mind begins to unravel, Prete lets loose -- a
scene in a mental hospital is particularly fine.

Sets are minimal, and
that suits the play just fine. Save for the occasional almost
bedroom tryst and a whole lot of drinking,
The Jazz Age

is really about these three actors. The play's abrupt ending is
a bit of a jolt and takes a while to swallow, but as with the
rest of the play, it goes down -- that it takes a bit of energy
from the audience to let it all soak in seems oddly fittings
... as if Fitzgerald and Hemingway wouldn't have it any other
way.