Adrian Sparks Gives a Gung Ho Performance in John deGroot's Papa
Veteran actor Adrian Sparks recently brought the one person show, John deGroot's Papa, to the Eureka Theatre. Sparks received a 2005 Ovation Award Nomination for Best Leading Actor for playing Ernest Hemingway. He gives a spellbinding performance of the unforgiving, blasphemous and profane author just two years before his suicide by shotgun in Ketchum, Idaho.
DeGroot's free-handed dramatic portrait of the macho colossus of the literary world takes place in his trophy decorated home just outside of Havana in 1959. A Life magazine photographer has set up an appointment for a photo shoot. Ernest is surprised as he strides into his over-decorated living room with animal heads, spears and other object d'art from Africa to see not only the camera-holding journalist but the audience behind him in the auditorium (the journalist is never seen).
During the next two hours we are entertained with remembrances of Hemingway's childhood, and Sparks tells of the resentment toward his mother for dressing him up as girl and calling him her "little Dutch dolly." Hemingway could not forgive his father either when, after his first successful book of short stories was published, his dad condemned the book as "pornography." "It's not fit to be in a Christian home," said the father.
As the play progresses he becomes a very mean drunk and his misogynistic nature comes to the forefront. He tells the audience at the beginning that doctors have told him he can have just two glasses of wine per day. "They never said anything about vodka," and he proceeds to drink a lot of Bloody Marys. He talks a lot about death and says on his tombstone he wants the words "Pardon me for not getting up." He shows his ugly side when it comes to women and this is especially true when he talks to his current wife over the telephone in a violent abusive nature calling her repellent names. The actor also shows the other side of the coin when Hemingway agonizes over the terminal illness of his close friend Gary Cooper. However, the agnostic author is angry that the actor has turned Catholic and is just waiting for death to take him peacefully.
Hemingway shows no kindness to his fellow writers, especially when he is shooting birds outside of his home. He gives each bird the name of a famous author, such as William Faulkner and "Scottie" Fitzgerald. When mentioning John Steinbeck, he says he was the writer of the age, especially those between 6 and 10.
Hollywood gets blasted for what the producers did to his stories, such as The Sun Never Sets, The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bells Tolls. A story is related of how Darryl F. Zanuck called Hemingway about The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Zanuck did not like the title and wanted Hemingway's permission to change it to something zingier. Hemingway thought for a minute and told him, "F for Fox Films, U for Universal Films, C for Culver City and K for RKO films. I don't think I have to spell that out. However, put in 'you.' "
Adrian Sparks gives a ferocious performance as the no-nonsense titan American author. He strides about the stage as a person who is on the edge of a physical and emotional collapse. As he continues to drink, he subtly changes to a different level of acting. It is an amazing performance.
Papa ran through July 8th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson, San Francisco.