Arts & Culture

Hemingway’s spirit lives on at the Crosley

Ernest Hemingway, one of America’s literary greats, called Florida home during the 1930s. It was at his Key West residence that he finished writing the beloved war novel “A Farewell to Arms.”

Though it has been nearly 50 years since the writer’s death, Hemingway’s spirit lives on in the Powel Crosley Theatre’s final production of the season, “Hemingway at the Crosley.” The show runs through April 3.

“There’s a real fascination with the man and his work,” said director Gary Mazzu. “So we felt that people would enjoy coming and seeing a selection of some of what he’s written.”

Like several shows performed at the historic Powel Crosley Estate mansion, guests can visit three out of four rooms where performances will be held. Other surprises include appearances from Charlie Chaplin and Hemingway’s friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The show features Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and Chaplin’s “Little Tramp.”

The performance is set in 1929, before the stock market crash. It was the same year the Crosley House was built, said Eileen Earnest, who plays Gwendolyn Crosley.

To open the show, Gwendolyn throws a soiree to show off her new “dream house.” The affair attracts the literary guests and inspires dancing.

Justus White, last seen at the Crosley’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” plays the young Hemingway.

At this time in Hemingway’s life, “The Sun Also Rises” was his greatest work; his newest book is “A Farewell to Arms” and his work-in-progress is “The Old Man and the Sea,” said White, who has played Charles Dickens in recent years for the Crosley’s holiday show.

White will be performing “The Old Man and the Sea.”

The actor said Hemingway had a way with words that started a new trend in English literature and poetry. His writing was simple and clear, but very vibrant.

“As opposed to using flowery language and long explanations,” said White. “He showed that you could be blunt and still be poetic.”

Catherine White plays Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife. Hadley was an essayist and a journalist.

During her research on the Hemingways, White said she was intrigued at how Ernest Hemingway looked “fresh-faced and open” as a young adult. Several years later, after he grew his trademark mustache and became a literary celebrity, that look turned cynical.

“All these rich people started to stroke his ego,” said White. “And he said he believed them. … In doing that he started to get sucked into this jet-setting life and it corrupted him in such a way that in the pictures, after their child was born, he looks completely different.”

“I liked him,” White added. “And I really wished he could have been happy.”

In the show, Hemingway’s friend, the fun-loving Fitzgerald, is played by Todd Loughry.

Loughry said he loves his role.

“He was the consummate party animal of the 1920s,” Loughry said of Fitzgerald. “He was known for indulging in anything that came in a bottle. He was a phenomenal writer, of course.”

Earnest and Loughry are performing “The Great Gatsby” as an old-time radio show, complete with sound effects and commercials. The radio show is a nod to Powel Crosley’s legacy. He was known as the pioneer of soap operas, which began as radio broadcasts. The shows were sponsored by household products, including soap manufacturers, said Loughry.

During “Hemingway at the Crosley,” Joe Regan will step into Chaplin’s silent-film shoes, miming his part in the show. Chaplin was the premier performer during the 1920s.

His films relied heavily on emotion, which was seen through his facial expressions and in his eyes, Regan said.

Cast members said area Hemingway fans have been anticipating the show.

“We’re letting them travel back in time,” said Loughry. “To a much simpler time.”

The interactive nature of the performances coupled with the audience choosing what part of the show they see next, makes the estate a special venue.

“We offer a unique kind of theater that can’t be replicated,” Loughry said.

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.