Paradise revisited

The Pursuit of Persephone

By Peter Mills and Cara Reichel
Music and lyrics by Peter Mills
Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise
Directed by Cara Reichel
Prospect Theater Company
Connelly Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Jenny Sandman

“It was paradise for a moment or two…”

--F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Pursuit of Persephone


The Pursuit of Persephone is not so much a biopic of F. Scott Fitzgerald as it is a snapshot of 1916 collegiate life. Perhaps not surprisingly, things haven’t changed much; then, college students went to football games, dances, joined fraternities and clubs, got drunk, and spent too much time thinking about the opposite sex and not enough on their studies. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This new musical from Prospect Theater Company chronicles F. Scott Fitzgerald’s years at Princeton, courting famous debutante Ginevra King. Before his legendary romance with Zelda, Ginevra provided the inspiration for This Side of Paradise and (probably) Daisy in The Great Gatsby.

The play is based on an actual meeting of Fitzgerald and King in 1937. His glory days behind him, he’s making a living as a screenwriter in Hollywood. She’s just gotten divorced. Though what transpired at their meeting is unknown, shortly thereafter Fitzgerald returned to drinking heavily. As he is waiting in a Hollywood restaurant for Ginevra to show up, Fitzgerald thinks back to their brief romance during his days at Princeton.

The Pursuit of Persephone is largely a series of flashbacks. Fitzgerald is a young man just beginning to intuit his writing gift. He spends most of his time writing songs and acting in plays for Princeton’s famous Triangle Club. When he also begins romancing Ginevra from afar, his grades begin to suffer. Ginevra is a vivacious young debutante who knows she must marry money; she dallies with Scott because he’s fun and different from the other men courting her, but she knows she can’t marry him.

Director Reichel and composer Mills make a great team. Mills’s arrangements are both bouncy and imaginative; they perfectly complement the play’s jazzy personality and warm heart. The lyrics are equally inventive, full of wordplay (as befits a play about a literary genius), especially in the clever “If Only.” Reichel and Mills met at Princeton as undergraduates (and were also members of the Triangle Club), and wrote this play as an homage to one of Princeton’s most famous alumni.

As usual, Prospect assembled a fine cast. Chris Fuller played young Fitzgerald with the right amount of cultivated naiveté, schoolboy charm, and proud frivolity. David Abeles was his stoic but lovable friend Edmund Wilson, and brought more laughs (almost) than Fitzgerald himself. Jessica Grove was a giggly and rambunctious Ginevra; Piper Goodeve was her more grounded and likeable roommate Marie Hersey.

Though long (clocking in at two hours and forty-five minutes, with intermission), The Pursuit of Persephone is an excellent new musical. Mills is certainly a talent to watch. Tesha Buss’s choreography was tight; Reichel’s timing and directorial instincts were spot-on; and more importantly, the play was enjoyable. The tunes are catchy, the story is both funny and moving, and the whole evening was well orchestrated. Fitzgerald would be honored.

Also with William Brock, Cheryl Dowling, Matt Gibson, Dennis Holland, Julie Lachance, Maclain Looper, Jaye Maynard, Shannon McShane, Brandon Parrish, Dominic Roberts, Melissa Robinette, Benjamin Sands, Paul A. Schaefer, Robby Sharpe, Courter Simmons, and Daniel Yates.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting: 1/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2005 Jenny Sandman