New York City Theater
"Zelda at the Oasis"
St. Luke's Theatre, Manhattan
P. H. Lin is one of the rising young Jewish American playwrights, and how fortunate for New York City theatergoers that her latest effort has come to town! “Zelda at the Oasis” is now playing off-Broadway at St. Luke’s Theatre.
Lin has been preoccupied with Zelda (wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald) for a number of years, and the result, finally, is an intriguing portrayal of that doomed lady. Zelda sits at a New York City bar, alternately flirting with the bartender and having flashbacks of her past. Thus Lin gives us a well-constructed, absorbing play, as Zelda’s character unfolds.
Lin had fascinating material with which to work. The Fitzgeralds were the golden couple of the Jazz Age---the 1920s, that is. But beneath the shining façade was a deeply troubled relationship. It was a marriage made in hell, as they fought and steadily destroyed each other. Scott himself managed to keep writing, falling back on his milieu and on Zelda’s own thoughts and comments. But this famed American novelist was also a hopeless alcoholic.
Zelda was an even worse case. The spoiled pampered daughter of a prominent southern family, she had also inherited the family’s bad genes---the propensity for mental illness. At the same time, she was gifted, bright, and beautiful. And she was competitive with Scott, determined to prove that she was as much an artist as he. She attempted ballet, art, literature---making brief forays into each area. She would claim that Scott stole her own material for his novels (which seems to be true). But what novelist does not steal from the world around him!
In any event, Lin has turned tragedy—or rather melodrama—into art. She has put together a powerful piece. Under Andy Sandberg’s unerring direction, two actors give fine performances. Gardner Reed is totally absorbing as she plays out the Zeldas of many faces, many emotions. Ultimately our heart goes out to this victim of a tragic fate. Edwin Cahill plays the many men (and several women) in Zelda’s life. First, there is the edgy bartender, then Scott himself, as well as Zelda’s French lover, her mother, and assorted other characters. Reed’s work comes across as the more flashy performance, but then she has the more interesting character with which to work.
In short, a play worth seeing. And it can be seen these days at St. Luke’s Theatre, where it enjoys an open-ended run.
Dec. 16, 2012