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Red Door Theatre presents The Last Flapper

Fort Fringe – Shop

Remaining performances:
Saturday, July 14, noon
Thursday, July 19, 6 p.m.
Tuesday, July 24, 9:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 28, 3:30 p.m.

They say: “The definitive portrait of Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald: the glamorous, fun loving, tragic Zelda. Set in an insane asylum on the last day of her life, Zelda tells of her rebellion, destructive marriage, and mental disintegration.”

Brooke’s Take: The defining question of Zelda FItzgerald’s legacy is whether she was a gifted writer and provocateur in her own right, or whether her worth was as muse to husband F. Scott. This duality sparked the psychic toll that is at the core of The Last Flapper, a portrait of a woman at odds with the relationship that defined her life and the psychological fallout of a talent unrealized. This production from New York City’s Red Door Theatre showcases Zelda’s dynamism and despair, relying on actress Kate Erin Gibson and tight sound cues to give an account of a fractured woman.

Born in Alabama and married to F. Scott at 19, Zelda was a free spirit who defied convention, sartorially and otherwise. Their union was initially dynamic and glamorous, but became toxic as they left the Jazz Age behind: Zelda grew resentful of her husband’s co-option of her own writing in his work. As his drinking and her schizophrenia both accelerated, he decamped to Hollywood to write screenplays. His literary career stalled, and she was institutionalized numerous times.

Zelda was 47 when she died in 1948, after the Highland Hospital in Asheville, N.C. caught fire, so Gibson skews a bit young for the role. But she gives an energetic performance, roaming the small set like a caged animal temporarily set free, speaking in bursts and mentally segueing from a doctor’s office in an asylum to various occurrences in Zelda’s life.

The Last Flapper crams a lot of biographical details into an hour, but the script never feels plodding or dense. Some of the dialogue comes from primary documents unearthed in Nancy Milford’s Zelda: A Biography, the 1970 book that recast its subject as a gifted artist confined by a domineering husband.

By all accounts, Zelda was over-the-top in her own life, sot could be tempting to play her big and devolve into camp. Luckily, Gibson doesn’t take the bait. Her Zelda is manic, then full of despair, and well-paced and well-rendered. By play’s end, the set is as disheveled as the play’s subject. The Last Flapper presents the life of a fascinating, wounded woman who never feels like a mere caricature in this production’s hands.

See it if: You already have an interest in Fitzgerald, or, in the words of a lyric from Stephen Sondheim’s Company, you like to watch a woman fall apart in front of you.

Skip It If: The histrionics of insanity aren’t enough action for you.