The play takes place in 1940, as Zelda talks to her doctor and remembers her life with Scott. We see the scenes play out with the younger Zelda as the older Zelda watches and sometimes participates, as if she's trying to relive the happy moments and save her younger self from some of the trauma she goes through. We see Scott and Zelda's first meeting in 1918, when she's a 17-year-old debutante and he a 21-year-old officer in the Army, stationed near her hometown in Alabama. They fall passionately in love, become engaged, and then Zelda breaks it off, afraid Scott can't support her with his short story writing. So he writes a novel, This Side of Paradise, and when it is published, they marry and began their tumultuous life together, in St. Paul, New York City, and Paris. Scott enjoys his success as an author, but Zelda struggles to find her own identity as an artist, whether through writing, painting, or dance (nicely represented onstage by Zelda constantly writing or painting a portrait of a dancer). As Act I ends, Zelda spirals further into mental illness. In a striking moment, both Zeldas and little Scottie twirl out of control as Zelda desperately cries, "Why can't I be happy?" In Act II, the two timelines converge and the present takes over from the past, which I found a little confusing. Scottie is all grown up and comes to visit her mother and make amends. Scott and Zelda, living apart for years, meet one last time, and he leaves again. The ending seemed to imply that Zelda makes peace with herself, but I'm not sure that she ever did, living in and out of psychiatric hospitals for the rest of her life until she died in a hospital fire. This is a tragic story with no happy ending.
|Zelda (Norah Long) with her doctor
(Alan Sorenson, photo by Scott Pakudaitis)
|Zelda and Scott in happier times
(photo by Scott Pakudaitis)
I love that the History Theatre gives me more insight into the history of my beloved home state of Minnesota. This is a fascinating chapter, and even though much of Scott and Zelda's story did not play out in Minnesota, we still claim them as our own. I also love when theater sparks my interest in a subject which leads me to further study, and this has certainly done that. Half of my time spent on this blog post was just reading more about Scott and Zelda's life together. I'd like to re-read Scott's most famous novel, The Great Gatsby (and see the soon to be released Baz Luhrman movie adaptation of it), and also read some of his other novels, especially Tender is the Night, and Zelda's counterpart, Save Me the Waltz, both largely taken from their life together. This Side of Paradise will give you a taste of Scott and Zelda's life in the Jazz Age, full of music, fashion, art, and tragedy. (Playing now through May 19, with discount tickets available on Goldstar.com).