“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
—Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
To many, his was the essential voice of 20th century America: lean, muscular, deceptively simple and vigorously dramatic. His stories and novels reflected both the new realities of the post-World War I era and his own insatiable lust for experience—the explorations of a young man in the wilds of the American west, the soul-numbing tragedies of French battlefields, the life-or-death drama of a matador in the bullfighting arena, the solace of love amidst the destruction of the Spanish Civil War. And his own persona exhibited the contradictions of the legendary works that he created—brash but private, hard-living but sensitive and poetic, mercurial and passionate, yet remote and often uncertain. In his work and in his life, Ernest Hemingway exemplified the “Lost Generation” of artists with whom he was so closely identified, a personification of the American ideal thrust into an exhilarating, confounding and daunting new era.
My good friend and frequent collaborator Stacy Keach has long been fascinated by the iconic author, beginning with his award-winning turn in the 1988 mini-series based on Hemingway’s life. For a number of years, Stacy and playwright Jim McGrath have been working on a play focusing on the years following the signal event of Hemingway’s career: the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. The result of their labors is Pamplona, an ambitious, finely-wrought solo show which centers on Hemingway’s attempts to write a series of articles about bullfighting for Life magazine in 1959, and the seemingly insurmountable challenges, both professional and personal, that ravaged the author in his later years. I am thrilled that Stacy and Jim brought this piece to me to direct in its world premiere; I find it to be, as I hope you will, a profoundly fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking, look at an artist grasping to find his former power—and a man striving to exorcise the demons which now plague him.
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Hemingway wrote:
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt that they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone, and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”
This is the ultimate confrontation which Jim’s play captures so masterfully, and is embodied in a towering performance by one of the great actors of the American theater.
Pamplona starts Friday, May 19! Learn more at GoodmanTheatre.org/Pamplona >>