The Blank Theatre Company’s signature charms — quirky characters, witty sets and the deft use of music — are on full, if flawed, view in Allan Knee’s “The Jazz Age.”
This soapy but absorbing portrait of the Lost Generation’s F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway features a Tin Pan Alley score by a live three- piece band. From their perch on an upstage balcony, the droll Ian Whitcomb and His Bungalow Boys pluck period ditties as the literary trio below loves, publishes and self- destructs.
These overexposed legends can teeter toward parody, and to Knee’s credit he manages to pull us into the action. Sometimes the sexiness feels more jejune than seductive, but for the most part you’re along for the ride — basically, the story of Scott’s unrequited love for Hemingway (or for the elusive masculinity Fitzgerald felt he lacked).
There are delicious moments — Scott and Zelda scheming how to live up to their glam public personas, Hemingway teaching Scott the Charleston — and cast members attack their roles: “Brothers & Sisters” regular Luke Macfarlane mines Scott’s brio and vulnerability to winning effect; Jeremy Gabriel serves up Hemingway’s laconic machismo with a side of self-deprecation. Heather Prete throws everything she can at Zelda, but the role is the least developed of the three.
Austin Pendleton’s “Orson’s Shadow” dealt with show people, and their constant theatrics seemed to express both artistic scope and infantile defensiveness. Here the fireworks feel less organic, and talented director Michael Matthews (“Beautiful Thing”) can let the emotion clog what is occasionally an unfocused script. Still, lit aficionados will enjoy quibbling over the factual details, drama junkies will relish the soap. Me? I’d go back for the music.
“The Jazz Age” The Blank Theatre Company, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 22. $22- $28.