Goodman Theatre Presents PAMPLONA Review – Stacy Keach Embodies Ernest Hemingway

Stacy Keach, returning to play the role of Ernest Hemingway he was slated to perform in a production of Pamplona at the Goodman Theatre last season, sits at a typewriter in frustration. It's an image director Robert Falls will return to throughout the 90-minute one-man show, and one Keach fills with trepidation and yearning each time he resumes the position. For in Pamplona, written by Jim McGrath, Hemingway is cornered, both literally and figuratively. In what will come to be the last year of his life, he is struggling to come up with the words to accurately express what he has witnessed in Spain covering a matador fight for Life magazine. But he is also cornered by the looming grey walls of Kevin Depinet's scenic design, which slope upwards to form a vertiginous prison for the writer. As McGrath's play unfolds, these walls will serve as canvases for Adam Flemming's projections to display past acquaintances of Hemingway using real-life photographs. Even towering over Keach, however, these pictures can't begin to match the stature of an actor who, at 77 years old, is crafting a performance that exemplifies the visceral connection that can be created between actor and audience.

Design Adds to Pamplona Star's Verisimilitude

While Keach's impressive performance as Oak Park-born writer Ernest Hemingway is bound to be one of the biggest draws of this production, Falls and his team of designers provide a rich world for Keach to inhabit. Depinet's set instantly transports you back in time, with textures that do double-duty conveying the wear of a Spanish hotel room and Hemingway's own fraying confidence in his ability to conquer writer's block. Noel Huntzinger's costume design also adds authenticity to the picture, while Jesse Klug's lighting hones in and out on Hemingway as he gives voice to his internal struggles and regrets. When coupled with Keach's full-bodied portrayal of one of America's literary giants, these elements serve to fully immerse you in Hemingway's history and personal crises.

Goodman Production Straddles Education and Entertainment

Part slice-of-life play, part internal monologue, and part biography, McGrath's script straddles multiple genres at once. Some moments, you are watching Hemingway struggle with a thesaurus as he searches for the perfect word. At other times, he's directly addressing the audience as he expounds upon his troubled upbringing and his disdain for his mother. Falls and Keach do plenty to make these shifts in content smooth, although to this writer, there were times when the biographical content in Pamplona began to feel more didactic than expository. Even so, audiences less familiar with Hemingway and his multiple marriages and run-ins with death will likely appreciate the inclusion of these details, which do serve to enrich the portrait of the author. In the end, Keach's unflagging performance makes Pamplona a worthwhile ticket, exemplifying the greatness of not only a Nobel Prize-winning author, but of an actor at the height of his career.

Goodman Theatre PAMPLONA
Goodman Theatre PAMPLONA
Goodman Theatre PAMPLONA


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.


Stacy Keach (Ernest Hemingway)



Robert Falls (Director)
Jim McGrath (Playwright)
Kevin Depinet (Set)
Noël Huntzinger (Costumes)
Jesse Klug (Lights)
Michael Roth (Composer and Soundscape), Adam Flemming (Projections)
Lauren V. Hickman (Production Stage Manager)


Pamplona runs through August 19th.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30pm
Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm
Sunday at 2:00pm


Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago


Tickets available online at Goodman’s website or by calling the box office at 312.443.3800.

Photo credit Liz Lauren

Brent Ervin-Eickhoff is a director, writer, and educator based in Chicago, IL. He has worked with A Red Orchid Theatre, Silk Road Rising, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., Facility Theatre, and others as a director, assistant director, and in a variety of artistic capacities. Brent served as Co-Artistic Director and then Managing Director of Blue Goose Theatre Ensemble for three years, of which he was a founding member. His productions of Herculaneum and Bison? Bison. Bison! with Blue Goose were praised by critics and audiences. Bison? Bison. Bison! was selected and performed as part of Chicago’s Night Out in the Parks Initiative. An award-winning filmmaker, Brent’s films have screened as part of the Frog Baby Film Festival and Indianapolis 48 Hour Film Project. His play Puget Sound was workshopped as a staged reading as part of A Red Orchid Theatre’s Incubator Program in 2017. Brent graduated from Ball State University Magna Cum Laude with degrees in Directing and Theatre Education, as well as Ball State’s prestigious Academic Honors in Writing.

Read more about him and other Picture this Post writers on the Picture this Post Masthead.

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