Great Gatsby’s seamy underbelly

By David Kenney

Drawing from one’s own diary is typical for any writer. Lifting juicy bits from someone else’s book of secrets is something else.

Famed writer F. Scott Fitzgerald did both, with incredibly inspiring and depressing results. His challenging marriage to the flamboyant and intensely creative Zelda Sayre provided fodder for volumes of his literature. Having access to her talented writing didn’t hurt.

"He writes his own tragedy over and over again," says local playwright Sharon Pollock, writer of the Fitzgerald-inspired play Angel’s Trumpet.

Set in 1933, the play depicts Fitzgerald and Sayre’s relationship starting when Sayre was placed in a institution to combat her mental illness. There she is taught to reject her creativity as is it part of her "disorder." Naturally, the creative repression eventually drives her crazy.

"The times were against her and that interested me," says Pollock, a Governor General Award-winning playwright, noting Fitzgerald had extensive control over Sayre’s institutional time.

"Does an artist have rights that ordinary people don’t have?" she asks. "Do they have any responsibility when they take on those rights?

Angel’s Trumpet doesn’t offer any answers. Pollock simply presents a fact-based story documenting a tragic love story.

"I think in his mind he was motivated by what he thought was best for her and him and his child," says Pollock of Fitzgerald, author of the classic The Great Gatsby. "It would be nice if it was malicious because it’s easy, you know, [if] he did it because he’s an asshole."

But problems were there. Love between Sayre and Fitzgerald soured with competition between the two. Sayre poured out writing in a short period of time while her husband took longer to craft his literature. To boot, Fitzgerald was an alcoholic. Regardless, their love survived.

"A psychiatrist asked her ‘If you could be a foremost literary figure but it would mean losing Scott, would you do that?’ She was unable to answer that," says Pollock. "I think they saw in each other what they lacked in themselves."

Pollock herself has drawn from direct personal experience in her autobiographical play Doc. The childhood drama explored her own mother’s alcoholism, depression and suicide. In approaching Fitz-gerald’s history, Pollock carefully plowed through information to accurately portray the author’s story. She thinks the couple would approve .

"I like to think that they thought it was a true reflection of the things that drove them and their motivations," she says.

Angel’s Trumpet runs until March 17 at the Dr. Betty Mitchell Theatre.

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