The aging Ernest Hemingway in "Papa," John deGroot's solo show, now at the Open Fist's new Hollywood space, is not so much a lion in winter as a lumbering bear in autumn, baited by the ravages of alcoholism and encroaching physical infirmity.
A remounting of the Open Fist's previous production, "Papa" features Adrian Sparks, whose resemblance to Hemingway is extraordinary, in a reprise of his acclaimed performance. Director Martha Demson again presides over this crisply orchestrated, gratifying enterprise.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, DeGroot combines familiar material from Hemingway's life and works with much original content. DeGroot spent years researching his play, interviewing Hemingway's surviving relatives and contemporaries, including the fisherman who inspired "The Old Man and the Sea."
Arguably dated, Hemingway's testosterone-fueled prose now occasions considerable controversy, particularly among feminists. Yet DeGroot's thoughtful, lively bio-drama may inspire even those who detest Hemingway to revisit the work of this tormented master.
The action is set at the author's home in Cuba, scant months away from his 1961 suicide in Idaho. Jeff G. Rack's beautifully detailed set bristles with books, wicker and trophies of Hemingway's fabled hunting expeditions. Dan Reed's lighting and Tim Labor's sound perfectly evoke the sun-soaked tropics.
We, the audience, assume the role of a Life photographer whom Hemingway is boozily entertaining. And what a host he is. Full of bull and braggadocio, Hemingway spouts forth in words what he can no longer commit to the page, recounting war experiences and sexual adventures while toying, casually but pointedly, with the notion of killing himself, as his father did.
In this near-perfect fusion of actor and material, Sparks is unfailingly brilliant, capturing the vulnerability under the bluster of a genius in sad but valiant decline. Sparks' Hemingway doesn't just whistle in the dark, he sallies into it like a one-man brass band, hot on the heels of that final adventure Rabelais termed "the great perhaps."
Where: Open Fist, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays
Ends: Feb. 18
Price: $15 to $20
Contact: (323) 882-6912, www.openfist.org
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes