Success stories are all fine and good, but so often they come with a downhill slide, dark nights of doubt, a once masterful mind reaching the end of its endurance.
Such was the case with Ernest Hemingway. The Oak Park-born writer and public personality was manly and misogynistic, adventurous and inventive. He committed suicide in 1961, but he began to lose his grip long before. “Pamplona,” a new one-man show at Goodman Theatre — written by Jim McGrath and starring Stacy Keach — ponders the genesis of Papa’s downward journey.
Keach is no stranger to Hemingway. He first read him as an undergraduate and played the younger man in a 1988 miniseries. “Pamplona” catches the author in his beloved, bull-fighting Spanish town in 1959. As he struggles to write, Hemingway’s mind wanders over the highs and lows of a well-lived life.
Despite all his hunting and drinking, Hemingway was more than his macho image. “He was also extremely vulnerable, especially concerning the women in his life,” Keach says. “He was both loving and deeply sensitive, but also given to bouts of manic depression and bitterness. I honestly believe Hemingway would have loved to find peace and reconciliation with the women in his life. His feelings for his mother dominated and colored many aspects of his relationships with women.”
Keach and McGrath have known each other for years (they both worked on the TV series “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer” in the ’80s) and began developing “Pamplona” five years ago. “We’re telling a story that not all people [are] familiar with,” McGrath says. “It was an amazing American life, similar to the life of Louis Armstrong — a modernist who flourished during the first half of the century and influenced everybody on a different level. Teddy Roosevelt was Hemingway’s role model, in the sense that he chose not to settle. Not every writer makes that choice, but it makes for an interesting life story further down the line.”
May 19-June 18, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn. For tickets ($20-$75), visit Goodmantheatre.org
Top photo by Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times