In Lost Generation, three characters–Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and Zelda, his wife–perform on a unit set with a table and some chairs, a sofa, arm chair, bed, a Victrola and some ‘78’ records, a practical window with a weight-supporting ledge, and a closet door. Time and space are fluid with no blackouts or set changes. After we have listened to assorted sound effects, the lights come up on Ernest writing at the table. Scott enters from the upstage shadows, drink in hand, apologizing for his drunken behavior. They talk about writing and Ernest tells him that Zelda drives Scott crazy so that he can’t write. Scott tells him that Zelda says his penis is too small and offers to show it to Ernest. Ernest asks Scott if it doesn’t bother him that his wife is a little bit insane and is jealous of Scott’s talent. Ernest opens the door and tells Scott to go in so that Ernest can look at his penis. But instead of following Scott through the doorway, Ernest slams it shut behind him.
Zelda comes in, asking for Scott, and telling Ernest that he uses people, then throws them away and writes mean things about them. Ernest says that that’s what writers do and says it’s a shame she isn’t stupid, because, being so beautiful, she would be happier if she were. She says that he likes to kill things and is the world’s greatest authority on “pseudo-masculine sadomasochistic bullshit.” She says that none of his fictional women are real and that A Farewell to Arms is “just a parlor trick.” She puts on a record of “Swan Lake” and begins dancing. Suddenly, we hear the sound of an airplane, close and very loud. She explains that it is her French lover buzzing the house to express his devotion to her.
Scott emerges from the closet with a shotgun and watches Zelda, now dizzy, fall face first on the sofa. We hear the airplane again and Ernest takes the record, inserts a nail through the hole, and nails it to the wall. Scott asks Zelda if she has taken the pills again and tries to get her to stand, but she pulls away and crawls across the floor, eventually curling up to sleep. Scott gets her to her feet, telling her she has to keep walking because that’s what they do in the movies. He tells her she is his muse and that Ernest is his artistic conscience. Ernest says that a writer has to be a bastard, and Zelda says that Scott wanted her to kill her children. Scott wants to show somebody his penis and Ernest says that anger is necessary for creation. Zelda tells him that his work is that of a terrified man and she doesn’t like it, although she thought his book about Popeye (To Have and Have Not) was very funny. Ernest gathers his papers and pen and goes into the closet, closing the door.
Scott tells Zelda that he writes to make money so that she can buy things. He says that when she is with him he can’t work, and when she’s not with him he misses her and wonders what man she is with. She accuses him of stealing her diaries and letters and putting them in his novels. She says she doesn’t enjoy sex with him and wants to go out drinking. He says he has to finish writing something so that they are not poor and if he goes drinking with her he will get drunk and won’t write anything. She doesn’t understand why Scott makes such a fuss over other writers and she climbs onto the window ledge as she imitates Scott worshipping Joyce and offering to throw himself out the window unless Mrs. Joyce declares that she is desperately and hopelessly in love with him. Scott pulls her down and sits on the couch with her. She says that Gertrude Stein is the “Empress Dowager of Bullshit” who makes “incomprehensible, incredibly tedious, self-indulgent literary cow flop.” As they talk we hear the airplane again, very loud, than a huge crash. Zelda goes out, hoping that the Frenchman had a parachute.
Scott, pouring a drink as Ernest comes out of the closet, asks if Ernest thinks he is a hack. Ernest says that Scott writes a great story and then eliminates the ambiguity and gives it a happy ending so he can sell it to the Saturday Evening Post. He defiles his work for money, and that is the definition of a hack. Scott says he can’t afford to create masterpieces right now. Ernest suggests that Scott learn to tell what happened and then take most of it out. Ernest thinks he hears a gun shot and Scott asks him why he wants to kill things. Ernest says that Scott and Zelda have to stop banging on his door at four in the morning, drunk and screaming.
Zelda enters, in tears, announcing that the French aviator has flown into the side of a mountain because he couldn’t have her. Ernest says he did have her and dumped her and then flew into a mountain. Scott asks Ernest if he has ever thought of suicide. Ernest says he’s thinking of it right now. After Scott brings drinks for Ernest and Zelda, the two men toast the dead pilot. When Zelda tells Ernest that he really wants Scott dead, Ernest says that everything is war. Scott thinks writers should help each other and then he tries to stand on his head. His third unsuccessful attempt lands him flat on his back, saying that writing is like dying. Ernest says that writing is what you do while you’re dying and that nothing else matters. Announcing that he has to urinate, Scott leaves.
As they drink, Zelda asks Ernest if he really wishes he were dead, telling him that he is a sentimental liar pretending to be a tough guy. She says that when he runs out of friends to kill he will find himself alone in a room with a gun. When she asks him why he doesn’t like her, he tells her she is going to bleed Scott dry and eventually murder him. She says that Ernest is terrified of women and worships violence, again calling him a liar. He says it is easy to write the truth if you are a great liar, that every story is a lie and all writing is betrayal. He grabs her and kisses her violently, knocking her backwards onto the bed. He says he hears something stalking them. Scott enters and we hear “an ominous roaring in the distance” as the lights fade out ending Act One.
Act Two begins as Act One ended with Scott asking Zelda what she said to John Dos Passos on the ferris wheel. She replies that she likes to watch men squirm. But she thinks they are in Delaware because crows have been following her everywhere. Scott is worried about her trying to strangle herself and throw herself under a train. She says she was just playing and asks him if he is going to hit her or cry. Scott asks Ernest if he wants to fight, but Zelda punches Ernest in the nose, knocking him backward over a chair. She says she is tired of playing a character called Zelda and exits, looking for a plot.
Ernest tells Scott that she is insane and should be committed before she destroys him. When Scott says he loves her, Ernest tells him that the illusion of love is fine unless it hurts his work. He says that he and Scott are writers and the world is trying to kill them. He tells Scott to write the best he can, every day, and never compromise, never give in. Anyone who gets in the way, wife or not, is expendable.
Zelda returns with a telegram for Ernest. He says that his father has died and Scott offers him moncy to go home for the funeral. Ernest takes the money and, leaving, tells them that his father shot himself in the head.
Zelda, humming “Swan Lake,” dances and speaks a rambling monologue about ballerinas and rain and mirrors and imaginary hypotheses. Scott tells her to stop dancing and says that she needs to go to a nice, quiet place where people can help her. He says he will write a great book and try not to drink himself to death. She says she does want him to write a great book and admits that it is exhausting trying to be charming and funny and beautiful all the time.
After Scott leaves, Zelda speaks another rambling monologue about burning and mirrors and Alice Through the Looking Glass and flowers and writing a book. Scott returns with a fat manuscript and asks Zelda (now in the madhouse) what it is. He asks her why she would write a novel about their lives when she knew he was doing the same thing. She suggests that perhaps she could be the writer and Scott could be the ballerina. She tells him she married him because she took pity on him. When he says he just wants her to get better, she says that beauty and love are temporary, but madness is not. She tells him to go to Hollywood and write movies, then leaves. Scott tells himself that he can write, he can.
Ernest enters and tosses a book at Scott. Scott asks him if he read it and what he thought of it. Ernest says he liked parts of it, but not other parts. Scott says that Ernest’s book is full of sneers, made up “almost entirely of resentments,” of hate. Scott thinks that great art comes, ultimately, from love. Ernest disagrees and says that criticism and critics are “shit.” When Scott defends Virginia Woolf, Ernest asks how Zelda is doing in the nut house and tells Scott that he hates him for being a better writer and a better man. When Ernest tells Scott that he is done as a writer, Scott says that Ernest is next. Ernest agrees and says that he fucked Scott’s wife.
Zelda comes in with a telegram for Scott, who doesn’t want to open it. Ernest, sitting by the shotgun, wonders how fools can write great books like Gatsby and The Good Soldier. He says that there is a hyena out there in the dark that has been following him for years. Scott says that Ernest was right to choose writing over love. Ernest says that he can’t sleep at night without a light in the room, and Scott thinks that he can still do good work, that the book he’s working on may be the best he’s ever done. Ernest takes out two shotgun shells from a box and Zelda opens the telegram, reading that Scott Fitzgerald died sitting in a chair in Hollywood. Scott says he just needs another twenty-five years and he’ll do incredible things but the light blacks out on him. Ernest opens the shotgun and puts in the shells and Zelda announces, “on a lighter note,” that Ernest Hemingway died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Idaho. Ernest says he left things out until he’d left out everything. He snaps the gun shut and the light blacks out on him. Zelda closes the play by saying that Zelda Fitzgerald died in her bed in the attic of an asylum during a fire. She says she used to know a girl with that name who swam naked for boys and lived in the mirror. She says they’ve asked her to dance at the funeral.