Bubbling Venus

By Jerry Tallmer

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s delightful and cheeky one-act play

Zelda Fitzgerald, along with her husband F. Scott, stirred things up from time to time by bathing in the fountain in front of the Plaza.  She may or may not have been a vestal virgin, but Scott thought she was.

He even wrote a poem about it, more or less. Goes like this:

When Caesar did the Chicago,               

He was a graceful child.

Those sacred chickens just raised the dickens,

The Vestal Virgins went wild.

Whenever the Nervii got nervy,

He gave them an awful razz

They shook in their shoes

With the Consular blues,

The imperial Roman jazz


He even wrote a play in which a girl very much like Zelda—a naked girl in a porcelain bathtub—complements the above verse by exchanging quips with a young man who cannot see any part of her except one delicious pink-and-white shoulder. Her name is Julie. Fitzgerald tells us, as only he could, she “is within whispering distance of 20 years old.”

It is a very short play, or a striptease of a play, bearing all the earmarks of someone himself within whispering distance of maybe 23 or 24 years old, if that.  Fitzgerald was born in 1896, and this playlet, “Porcelain and Pink,” can be found in the Scribner’s 1922 edition of  Fitzgerald’s “Tales of the Jazz Age,” so you do the math. That’s where Sheila Xoregos found it, via the Internet, when she was looking for something new and different—well, old and different—to stage midsummer in a baker’s dozen public libraries throughout Manhattan.

When last we checked in with Shela Xoregos, a year ago, she was presenting a long-lost melodrama, “The Confession,” by none other than Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923).

“I guess I have an affinity for out-of-the-way things,” Ms. Xoregos says now. “Or put it this way: Mostly I’m bored with things that are done all the time.” Her problem is that theater rentals have soared out of her grasp.

Well then, “Porcelain and Pink” is the drawing card of a passel of plays, poetry, and song to be produced and directed by Ms. Xoregos at those 13 libraries plus two public parks, uptown and down, on various dates through August 20. Admission free everywhere.

Counterbalancing the Fitzgerald are an old and well-worn friend—Chekhov’s “A Marriage Proposal”—and a more recent product, “Silence of the Land,” by Adé Adémola, a two-men-on-a-park-bench jabberwocky that owes its buttons to Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee, among others.

The poetry that graces all this is by Langston Hughes, Alexander Pushkin, Maria Tsvetaeva, and e. e. cummings (who used to live on Patchen Place, across the street from the Jefferson Market Courthouse Library).

The downtown performances are Saturday, August 10, 6 p.m., at Washington Market  Park, Chambers and Greenwich Streets; Saturday, August 15, at 2 p.m., Jefferson Market Library, 10th Street and Sixth Avenue.

The Fitzgerald is about as light as a feather, also about as consequential as a feather. That is perhaps its charm. It is sprinkled with references to such as O. Henry, James Fennimore Cooper, Agamemnon (who was stabbed in a bathtub), Marat (who was stabbed to death in a bathtub), Charlotte Corday (who stabbed Marat in that bathtub), Gaby Deslys (a cute French music-hall singer/dancer), Henri Bergson (a French philosopher), “The Man in the Iron Mask,” “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” and profundities like “to the pure all things are suggestive.”

Only three years after Scribner’s issuance of “Tales of the Jazz Age” the same FSF, believe it or not, was to bring forth “The Great Gatsby” (1925). Two years before that, in 1923, his better-known full-length play “The Vegetable” had been a crushing flop on Broadway.

It is Shela Xoregos’s opinion that Fitzgerald, like Mark Twain, Henry James, and many another great novelist, “was nuts about theater” and beheld the stage and its bright lights as the beckoning path to riches and immortality. One indication that this may be more than a bit true in the case of young Fitzgerald (much less the worn-out burnt-out Hollywood screenwriter who would leave us at 44, in 1940) is the somewhat ostentatious insertion of the name “Belasco”—i.e., 19th-century Broadway titan David Belasco—in the last line of “Porcelain and Pink.”

Ms. Xoregos’s own path lining up this material and those libraries has not been an easy one. 

“I wanted to do George Kelly’s ‘Finders Keepers,; but I would have had to pay $75 per performance! Also it was a little too long for this show. Then I found ‘Porcelain and Pink,’ which is in the public domain.  I thought it delightful and cheeky.

“Then I thought: If I can’t afford a theater, how about libraries? But that’s a whole saga in itself. You have to get permission from each library individually, starting in each case with the local community board and then the particular supervisor. At one library I said: ‘We’re doing poetry,’ and was told: ‘We don’t want it.’ ”

She is delighted with her actors:  “Young, enthusiastic, and uninhibited.” They are Aubrie Therrien (the girl in the bathtub), Kate Reynolds (her somewhat more staid sister), Jesse Kearney {the young man)—and, in the two other pieces, Andrew R. Cooksie, Trina Mar Shumsonk, and Aaron David Kaner. The music is by James Barry, the sets are by Elisha Shaffer, the costumes are by Carla Gant.

So how about that bathtub (or bath-tub, as Fitzgerald quaintly hyphenated it)?

“It’s cardboard, and it folds up like a suitcase, and is light enough to carry up and down subway steps/”

 Take that, David Belasco.


August 14, 6:30 p.m., Webster Library, 1465 York Ave. at 77th Street

August 16, 2 p.m., Jeffersib Market Library, Sixth Ave. at 10th Street

August 17, 2 p.m., North Lawn, Riverside Park, at 80th Street

August 18, 6:30 p.m., Columbus Library, 742 Tenth Ave. at 50th Street

August 20, 6:30 p.m., Mid-Manhattan Library, Fifth Ave. at 40th Street, Sixth floor

Admission free. All  shows 70-80 minutes. Further info: (212) 239-8405, xoregos.com.