Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah by Mark St. Germain
A Barrington Stage Company production at the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center
Through September 29, 2013
Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck
Playwright Mark St. Germain has once again transported us in time to be witnesses to an extraordinary evening: taking two giants
of literature; bringing them together in a volatile situation; and then setting off the pyrotechnics in a rollicking, freewheeling encounter. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were two of the most influential and enduring writers of the 20th century, and as portrayed in St. Germain’s riveting new play, possibly two of the most tortured. Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah offers an insider’s view of what happens when two successful and acclaimed novelists attempt to transform their literary successes into popular films.
Joey Collins is excellent as a resolute but wavering F. Scott Fitzgerald, making an enormous effort to stay sober and produce a film script that will earn enough money to support his wife Zelda at the mental hospital. Ted Koch is equally good as a blustering, bombastic Ernest Hemingway, drinking liberally to escape from his own demons. The two actors, skillfully directed by St. Germain, are compelling, authentic, and completely engaging, struggling with success, celebrity, alcohol, and the ever-present possibility of failure.
The Garden of Allah was a cluster of apartments in West Hollywood, and in this riveting new play, St. Germain has chosen it as the site of his imagined meeting between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. It’s 1937 and Fitzgerald is under contract to the movie studio, churning out a script under a ridiculously tight deadline. Angela Pierce gives a brilliant performance as the brittle, business-like, and extremely focused Evelyn Montaigne, Louis B. Mayer’s snarky assistant who has been charged with making sure Fitzgerald delivers the screenplay on time.
Collins shows us the anxiety-ridden Fitzgerald grappling with writer’s block as well as guilt over having had Zelda committed. When the play begins, he is trying his best to fulfill his commitment to the movie studio, his financial obligations weighing heavily on him. And then Hemingway shows up, also in the midst of business deals with the movie industry, to work the angles and achieve his own agenda.
The writing is their common ground; otherwise, the two were very different. Fitzgerald is struggling, so much so that he says, “Writing is the enemy.” Hemingway is all ego, larger than life, but at the same time, highly sensitive to any criticism.
Fitzgerald and Hemingway banter, bicker, reminisce, and argue, and the audience has the privilege of listening in as the two giants interact. While it is true that these two knew each other in real life, St. Germaine has created the encounter that makes up this 90-minute play. St. Germaine has had great success portraying well-known figures in his well-crafted, tightly written plays – notably Dr. Ruth Westheimer in Becoming Dr. Ruth and Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis in Freud’s Last Session – and now he adds Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah to the roster.
The production is meticulous in every way, from the crisp dialogue, and the accomplished cast to the work of the design team: David M. Barber delivers a marvelously detailed 1937 apartment; Margaret A. McKowen designed accurate and evocative costumes, and Scott Pinkney created lighting that added atmosphere and definition.
Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah is a smart, scintillating evening of rivalry, angst, and humor, as well as insight into the world of working writers.
For information visit www.barringtonstageco.org; for tickets, call 413-236-8888.