To say that I don’t know where to start in heaping accolades on Tessa Williams’ ’10 latest play, “Beautiful Little Fools,” would be the understatement of a lifetime. “Beautiful Little Fools” is not a play that you enjoy. It’s not a play that you absorb. It’s a play that envelops you in the ruthless turmoil of true love. Which is to say, it’s a play that absorbs you.
The production, which opened last night at the Whitney Humanities Center and runs through Saturday, follows the relationship of Zelda (Williams) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Matthew George ’11) through courtship, calamity and collapse. They fall in love, they get married, they fall apart, but not necessarily in that order. Williams’ play jumps back and forth through the Fitzgeralds’ marriage, guided not by chronology but by an astute sense of emotional development and juxtaposition.
The performances by Will Turner ’11, who plays everyone who isn’t a Fitzgerald, and George are well done, but Williams’ is devastating. The audience watches helplessly as Zelda, a casualty of her husband’s art, degenerates before their eyes. Williams weeps, collapses and twirls across the stage in fits of self-destruction; she is a woman being, as she says, “eaten alive” from within and without, and we are her witness.
The whole sweep of brilliance finds an able guide in Gary Jaffe ’10, a director who has both an intellectual and intuitive understanding of the text. The actors’ movements are orchestrated as if the whole thing were a morbid ballet. Genius is sublime and rapacious; love is undying and fatal. For Zelda and Scott, their love sends them into downward spirals of alcoholism and insanity that promise to lead them both to the grave. Their descent is rendered with savage simplicity: a broken glass, a half-empty bottle of whisky, a pile of crushed sleeping pills. Before the performance is over, the floor is literally strewn with the remnants of a life destined for disaster.
But the truly soul-wrenching power of “Beautiful Little Fools” derives from the fact that the artistic team never loses sight of the beautifully brutal tempest of a love story at the center of the play. The play isn’t good. It’s merciless, terrifically ruthless, and will ultimately leave you speechless.