Readings & Performance by Ernest Hemingway and Friends
Directed by Gary J. Mazzu
Powel Crosley Theatre at Crosley Mansion on Crosley Estate
Tamiami Tr., Opposite SRQ Airport, Bradenton, (941) 722-3244
March 25 through April 3, 2009

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

A successful formula for interpretative theater! In its sixth year, the Powel Crosley Theatre proves it's at the inventor-entrepreneur's historic mansion to stay. Dedicated to showcasing the work of important authors in a dramatic setting and ways, the group presents three programs each year at the height of the area's tourist season.  With Ernest Hemingway as its focus, Hemingway at the Crosley climaxed this year's series by making his masterpiece The Old Man and the Sea the dramatization attended in the Great Room by all program attendees. The conceit is that they are guests at a party hosted by Powel's wife Gwendolyn (vivacious Eileen Earnest), done up in stunning '30s chiffon.

Each gets a chip, the color of which determines the order of moving and viewing two of three shows not on the "mainstage" but rather in various rooms on two floors. After introduction on the terrace of the players, they offer an appropriate dance, such as the Charleston, then lead viewers to join in another. After viewing a famous West Coast of Florida sunset (unless it rains-a rarity), they can choose to go to two of three offerings before the main attaction.  

Upstairs in Powel's room, Cara Craig as Hadley Hemingway read from parts of A Movable Feast, from a manuscript she is sharing, unknown to her husband. They describe episodes in their marriage but emphasize their knowing Gertrude Stein and how the epithet Lost Generation came about. Craig was a bit hesitant at times, possibly because of what appeared to be rushed editing. In Gwendolyn's room, audience reaction to Todd Loughry, an amazing F. Scott Fitzgerald lookalike interpreting parts of The Great Gatsby, was heartier. 

In the downstairs library, Joe Regan deftly mimed Charlie Chaplin (or Charlot, as Hemingway knew him in France).  The Little Tramp struggled with a closed door, opened one door to a blank wall, another in a recess to a false passageway, and finally a door leading to a source of important props. As is usual with a setting of so many doors, farce followed. A sketchpad produced humorous pics; a hat and cane, tricks. Chosen viewers became his partners in posing, dancing, producing special effects. An updated old Crosley phonograph made music that fit right in.

The main treat was just that. Blake Braswell may not have been a dead ringer for Ernest Hemingway. However, he quickly became the writer's "Old Man" wearing khakis casually and with no props but an absolutely authentic voice and mien. His narrator's part blended in perfectly. If Hemingway's writing style, as the program has it, "is characterized by economy and understatement," no less can be said of Braswell's performance and his edited script. He stayed in character at the closing on the courtyard terrace with final memories of Paris, taken from Hawks Do Not Share. Jaye Annette Sheldon costumed the actors. 

Next season's program series will begin during the December holidays with related works by Charles Dickens.

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