The play Pamplona opens with Stacy Keach in a room in Pamplona, Italy. It is after Hemingway’s 60th birthday party and he gets a call from a well-meaning friend who tells him that he ignored his wife, Mary while he flirted with others. He slams the phone down and uses a few expletives.
This one-man play is a long soliloquy given in a mediocre room in Pamplona. Hemingway has been using it as a space to write for over 30 years. It is plain and somewhat sparse with a bed, a Persian rug, a Victrola for his music and a writing desk with his typewriter.
Keach delivers an 80-minute nonstop journey back through the years of Hemingway’s life. He relives major and minor events and the stage designer uniquely puts huge pictures on the walls to reflect his thoughts. For example, if he is talking about his time spent with F. Scott Fitzgerald or his first wife, Hadley, their black and white photographs are displayed on the walls of the room.
Throughout the play, he is frustrated because he has writer’s block. He has a deadline with Life Magazine on a memorable matador and cannot seem to come up with the right words. He has already taken a large cash advancement, so he is feeling the pressure of producing a finished product.
As he moves through his life in a non-sequential order, he admits that he cannot turn out work like he did years before he received the Nobel Prize. War injuries, car wrecks, and plane crashes have taken their toll on his health along with his four marriages and years of drinking.
Pamplona has a humorous tone and there is laughter after almost every other line though many of the things he endured are not laughable. He shows how his major works were borne out of real events but how he added fiction to each piece.
He lost friends after writing, A Sun Also Rises. His acquaintances from those Paris days saw themselves in his characters. He felt that this was not entirely true and talked about reality versus what he wrote. He actually read the Dear John letter written by the nurse which inspired A Farewell to Arms.
In The Old Man and the Sea, he gave the main character the name of Santiago. Yet he got the idea from observing a fisherman with gnarled hands by another name. And, he admits that For Whom the Bell Tolls was spun from his relationship with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn.
He laments over his wives and he admits that he does not understand women. But then, he did not understand his insensitive mother. Towards the end of the play, he goes back to his humble beginnings in Oak Park.
Hemingway shares some of the difficult things like his grandfather’s attempted suicide and his father’s actual suicide both using the same gun. He shares his mother’s unforgettable betrayal when she used to dress him up as a little girl and tell the neighbors that he and his sister were twin girls.
Stacy Keach does a fine job of pulling off the essence of Ernest Hemingway. It lines up with everything that I had read by and about him. Mary Hemingway’s book, How it Was, also filled in many of the small details of his life and the play Pamplona got it right.
This look into the remarkable life of Papa proved that the entire globe was his indeed his oyster. He wrote what he saw, lived and experienced and he took his readers along for the wonderful ride!
Lynn M. May 31, 2017