I started reading Hemingway’s first novel In Our Time in January of 2021 at a cabin overlooking an ancient and remote part of the Allegheny River. (See featured photo of my kids, cabin and the river.) It was the thick of COVID, and I was in the thick of grieving. My Dad had traumatically died 10 months earlier. I was remote schooling my children. (Which still makes me nauseous to even type.) I was in a slow panic about how the theater industry would survive. I was off. I was wobbly. And yet with all of my instabilities, I was needed to support my physician husband. The pandemic made the medical fields feel like an absolute minefield for doctors and their families.
It was during this time, while watching the ancient Allegheny roll by with its deep and unseen undercurrents, that I began to conceive of my latest play in development, In Our Time: Stories from the Front Lines of the Medical Fields.
Inspired by interviews with female critical care physicians on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic, and Ernest Hemingway’s groundbreaking World War I novel set against the backdrop of a pandemic nearly 100 years earlier, “In Our Time/Stories from the Front Lines of the Medical Fields” weaves Hemingway’s In Our Time with first hand accounts of women ICU doctors to create a moving, poetic account of 2 pandemic eras echoing with parallel themes of loss, grief and alienation. Theatrically adventurous and surprising, characters and stories layer through time and stage space, as they reach for meaning and connection in the spaces between words and worlds.
This past Sunday, the NY Times printed an extensive feature on Earnest Hemingway, regarding the newly found treasure trove of personal items belonging to the legendary writer.
From the article: “What Hemingway Left in Sloppy Joe’s Bar 80 Years Ago”
The archive is opening during a moment when Hemingway is enjoying a bit of a cultural renaissance. Last year, he was the subject of a lavish, three-part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, and Simon & Schuster has been releasing expanded library editions of his work. Hemingway continues to inspire movies, comic books, podcasts and TV shows. His last unfilmed novel, “Across the River and into the Trees,” was shot in Venice during the height of the Covid pandemic and stars Liev Schreiber. And Robert Zemeckis, the director of films including “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away,” has agreed to direct a limited television series based on Hemingway’s life that is being shopped to studios and streamers.
I’m just saying…clearly, I’M ON IT. Your girl is relevant. For the record, the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary was released only AFTER I had started writing the play. Over the past year and a half, I have read A LOT of scholarly articles on Hemingway. And, I am drawn to him and his works because of the complexity. Because of the gaps revealed between his words and formulaic moral stepping stones. Because there are no good guys, really. I am deeply sympathetic to his grief and feelings of isolation. To the entrapment of the image he created during a time boxed identities. And there’s no denying that he was also kind of a jerk.
Since my play is also about female ICU physicians, and the gender identities of “heroes” and “soldiers on the front lines” I was glad that the article made a point to include this quote.
“The Hemingway that you know from high school is not the Hemingway we know today,” Eby, the president of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation and Society, said. “The hyper-machismo was real, but it was less than half the picture. Hemingway’s sexuality and gender identity were much more fluid and complex than the general public realizes. The man was a thousand times more interesting and nuanced than the myth would suggest.”
“More nuanced than the myth would suggest.” What a great understanding and note for us all. To look at the myths in our lives, be they political, or religious, or myths in our relationships – and embrace nuance with the mythology.
For more on In Our Time: Stories from the Front Lines of the Medical Fields check out this Broadway World article.
“New Play Inspired By ICU Physicians Interviews and Hemingway, IN OUR TIME, to Be Presented This Month”