No doubt there have been many hunters who set out from the older Abercrombie & Fitch with all the best gear and came back from the expedition with nothing. What Leo Brady has done in his new play at Olney, "Father Time," is to set out with fine equipment and expert companions - but with the intention of aiming only at something small and rather weasely.
The play is about an aging novelist, as famous for his macho exploits as his tough writing, living in Florida, fighting an increasingly hard battle to defend both of these titles. There is a white beard on his chin and animal trophies on his walls. He talks about truth all the time and commends the fish he just caught for having "fought with dignity." There are frequent references to his bullfight book, the time he got lost in Africa, his succession of wives, his hunting and boxing. And every once in a while, he mentions another writer, Ernest Hemingway, to point out minute differences between them.
It's such a cheap shot. But it is so luxuriously done.
This is a funny play, given a witty and engaging production. But comedy has nothing to do with our knowledge of Hemingway, because it is not a satire of him. On the contrary, this is a detraction, because Brady has gone to the trouble of creating a number of good comic characters and then denied them their own identities.
The novelist is a lusty, outrageous old man surrounded by sycophants who attempt to conceal from him that his powers are waning. He then receives a visit from a threesome of non-fans who do the opposite: his first wife, his brother and his son. The old champ's ability to take on this round - both the people and the truth they hit him with - is the subject of the play.
It is a plot that stands on its own. Herb Voland makes a massively well-rounded character out of the novelist, who is as irresistible as he is impossible. Robert Symonds and Michael Haney are bitingly funny as the brother and son and Rosemary Murphy, as the wife, has some good moments, as well as some unfortunately fussy ones - and a silly wig - that don't seem to fit her role as a beauty who has worn well.
A few changes in the circumstances and invented details would have let the originality show through, without the grimy pretense of revealing dirt about a real celebrity.