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Papa Hemingway Spends an Afternoon at the Senior Center
Richard Clark, as Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, has paid a return visit to Hopkinton. Clark was in town earlier this year when he put on a stunning solo performance of the Harper Lee classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. On Tuesday, October 5th, he pitched his theatrical tent at the Senior Center and brought Ernest Hemingway to life for a fleeting hour as part of his “Keeping History Alive” program. The result, like the Atticus Finch portrayal a few months ago, was riveting.
Clark became the larger-than-life Hemingway character with all the bravado and bluster of the author. By drawing from the Hemingway novels, papers and short stories, Clark is able to cobble together a tale of both a profound, and profane writer, who eventually destroyed himself as he was overwhelmed with self doubt.. Early on, the audience was introduced to Hemingway’s droll and abrupt humor. His disdain for authority and contempt for the duplicitous nature of high society pervaded his life.
As portrayed by Clark, Hemingway was equally adept at socializing with the rich and famous literati of his time, as he was at mocking them for their false sense of accomplishment and value.
Quoting Hemingway, Clark said,” Hypocrisy is the oil that makes the world go round” and “A fiction writer is a liar who tells the truth”.
Hemingway’s Parisian exploits with his friends F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound were recreated by Clark as if he had been out partying with them the night before. He employed the following Hemingway quote to describe the poet Ezra Pound.
“Pound's crazy. All poets are. They have to be. You don't put a poet like Pound in the loony bin.”
Hemingway was a complex character, and Clark’s picture of him took the audience all over his complex map. His multiple marriages, his service in the military, his work as a reporter and his travels around the world all had an effect on the author. However, his domineering mother molded his psyche at a very early age. Clark channeled Hemingway’s intense rage and rebellion against his mother’s ideas and force fed religion. The strained relationship he had with his father was also revealed in Clarke’s monologue. His disdain for war was formed when he was an ambulance driver in World War I and also contributed to his body of work.
After all the globe trotting, Hemingway settled in Key West for much of his latter life and Clark focused on that period and his journey into self destructive mental illness. As the audience followed Clark’s readings, it showed Hemingway’s ribald lifestyle in Florida as the stuff of legends among writers, actors and the public in general. According to Clark, men loved Hemingway; they all wanted to be like him. Women hated him because their men idolized him. His early time in Key West with his son Gig was “good” until the son was caught plagiarizing a term paper. This effectively ended his relationship with his son and Clark deftly described the angst the writer experienced from the dissolving relationship. In a more melancholy tone, the character reminisced about his friendship with the legendary actor Gary Cooper.
“Cooper must be like the movies, too good to be true”.
Approaching the end of the hour long presentation, Clark presented Hemingway as an angry man, resigned to his fate, with the full knowledge that he has lost it, saying “Life is slipping sideways”. In the end, the character can only cry out to his wife in anguish, “Hadley, Hadley”.
Following the performance, Clark talked with the audience about the author, citing some of the numerous books and short stories penned by Hemingway.
Clark also recited a story that Hemingway considered his best work. When he was challenged to write a complete story in six words by a group of literary colleagues, Hemingway wrote:
“For sale: baby shoes, never used”.
Clark is a New England regional theater actor with more than thirty years of experience. He also performs in New York theater and television. A graduate of Clark University, he has also studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Actors Loft in New York City. His Keeping History Alive series brings historical and literary figures back to life, as he did so well with Ernest Hemingway.