Ross Valley Players’ ‘Scott & Zelda’ is clever, sad yet emotionally limited

[Woody’s Rating: ★★½☆☆

Emily Dwyer (left) portrays Zelda Fitzgerald and Frankie Strornaiuolo (right) her husband Scott while Ron Talbot depicts Dr. Rennie and Marissa Ellison is a psychiatric patient. Photo by John Navas.

Decadence. Drunkenness. Depression.

You might think piling those three extreme elements on top of each another would guarantee a compelling play. Well, it does — almost.

My beef with Lance S. Belville’s “Scott & Zelda: The Beautiful Fools,” a Ross Valley Players’ dramedy? It’s a comprehensive word-portrait of a best-selling author who sells out to Hollywood (dragging his literally schizophrenic wife with him) but one that incessantly talks about emotions without displaying them sufficiently for me to feel.

It’s not enough to watch F. Scott Fitzgerald (who insists that “all my characters are me”) descend from being the Great Gatsby to the Great Failure during a Jazz Age roller coaster.

Or to see Scott (Frankie Stornaiuolo) and Zelda (Emily Dwyer) address the audience — as well as Scott’s daughter, Scottie (Charlotte Curtin) — with wit, elegance and power yet exhibit minimal chemistry when coupling.

You can’t forget they’re acting, even when she’s playfully calling him Goofo.

It’s vastly easier, however, to believe Scott’s spitefulness when he labels Zelda, who’s using for her novel personal material he covets and who’s obsessed with becoming a ballerina despite her advancing age, “an amateur writer and a third-rate dancer.”

It’s easy, too, to marvel at the playwright sometimes brilliantly painting characteristics in a single sentence — as when Zelda tells Scott that “being beautiful is my job, being smart is yours.”

Or when she knowingly notes that “there’s no room in the spotlight for anyone besides you.”

Belville, a Sausalito resident, has had 50 plays produced. An earlier version of “Scott & Zelda,” in fact, won an award for “distinguished achievement” from the Twin Cities drama critics circle.

Director Lynn Lohr, Belville’s wife, makes sure that although much of the epic romance’s dialogue is clever and crisp, an undertone of sadness is pervasive — which from all I’ve read is a spot-on depiction of the Fitzgeralds’ extravagant, frivolous, adulterous lives.

Scott’s frequently reminding Zelda of her attraction to a suicidal French flyboy underscores that melancholy.

In a play that flirts with flashbacks and fluid timeframes, six supporting characters play 18 roles (including legendary literary figures like editor Maxwell Perkins [Ron Talbot] and literary agent Harold Ober [Peter Warden]).

But its emphasis is always on the couple’s love — and rivalry, reflecting his stealing some material directly from her mouthings and diaries.

“Scott & Zelda” partially takes place in the Tinseltown apartment of Fitzgerald’s mistress, British-born gossip columnist Sheilah Graham (Marissa Ellison), and partially in Scott’s own mind (at a time when his wife was confined to an asylum).

The 115-minute play moves swiftly in Act I but tends to fizzle in the second half.

Probably because its anti-climax lacks a knockout punch (in spite of the presence of a macho, boxing Ernest Hemingway [Izaak Heath]).

That missing drama is actually foreshadowed by a scene in which sharp-witted comic Groucho Marx (Warden) tosses a string of punchlines at a forlorn Fitzgerald that fall flat.

As always in RVP’s RAW (Ross Alternative Works) productions, there’s an intentionally skimpy use of set and props. Turning two see-through plastic chairs into a Christmas tree, however, is a marvelous touch.

“Scott & Zelda” headlines this year’s RAW series, which includes two one-night readings of original scripts by Bay Area playwrights on Thursdays, April 18 and 25.

 “Scott & Zelda” will run at The Barn, Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, through April 28. Night performances, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 2 or 4 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $12-$27. Information: (415) 456-9555, ext. 1, or www.rossvalleyplayers.com.

Contact Woody Weingarten at www.vitalitypress.com/or voodee@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →