Denis Paulette plays Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of Scott Fitzgerald. The play is set on March 10th 1948 at the Highland Hospital, Asheville, North Carolina in a psychiatrist’s office. Tragically she was killed later that day in a fire. Although the play was written by William Luce most of the biographical information is from Zelda’s own words.
Most profound in this solo performance is how it captured the decaying force of institutionalisation felt by Zelda, who wrote ‘it offers hope when there isn’t any’. Paulette’s performance strongly conveyed Zelda’s distress on what was to be her last day, and through her body language and clothing her exhaustion at the institution and the oppression of the doctors after seventeen years was crystal clear.
However, the play went further than the tragedy of her situation and through making use of her hallucinations allowed the actress to go back and forth in between memories of different times in her life, sometimes reminiscing about growing up in Alabama with her smothering parents. Other times she discussed her love for her husband and her time in Paris where she was in the public eye and socialising with the most important writers of the era. Paulette’s Zelda appeared exciting and spoke of her love to dance and her happiness when she got close to paradise on the Riviera with F. Scott Fitzgerald and portrays his personality simultaneously, thus allowing the audience to develop their knowledge of both individuals. The script imbued Zelda’s words with all the qualities of those great writers she once knew with a brilliant way of expressing her opinions of love.
Denise Paulette has had three years of experience touring across America as Zelda and she has seemed to reach some affinity with her knowing the eighty minute dialogue perfectly and replicated her Alabama accent well. The play is a strongly informative and emotional portrayal that deserves to be seen even if it does not quite feel like the spitting image of Zelda visually, which is something that some biographical portraits really excel on, however it feels unimportant thanks to the power of the performance.