Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah
Designer David M. Barber finds perfect accents for Scott Fitzgerald's apartment/villa in West Hollywood on July 4, 1937. The worn leather sofa is plush and comfy looking. Barber furnishes a dark wooden table and chairs, greenery, and an eventual view of Hollywood when a rear window is opened.
Miss Evelyn Montaigne (Angela Pierce) is on stage. She is a secretary and intermediary who works for MGM and presses Fitzgerald (Joey Collins) to finish a screenplay. Soon enough, stocky Hemingway (Ted Koch), with dark hair and mustache, appears on the scene. The men are pleased to see one another as they became friends when they were, by implication, abroad a decade earlier. Now, Fitzgerald is struggling to come up with something beyond "The Great Gatsby." Hemingway pushes Scott to pen a serious workinstead of the short stories for magazines which bring in cash for Fitzgerald. Hemingway, in a seemingly generous move, recommends that perhaps Scott would like to have rights to "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" to transform the novel into a screenplay.
Then, there is the overarching but unseen presence of Zelda (Fitzgerald) who is currently institutionalized. Hemingway is after some details regarding her treatment and, specifically, drugs; that will inform a piece he is writing. Fitzgerald ponders Hemingway's keen interest.
During the course of the 90 minute play, names are dropped: Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein, Picasso ... and so forth. It was a time of big bands and war, too.
St. Germain has written, for Barrington Stage, world premiere scripts for Becoming Dr. Ruth, Best of Enemies, and Freud's Last Session to highlight just a few. He works from a reality base which includes history and moves his plays toward fiction. The playwright has great dexterity with this genre and Scott and Hem hums along swiftly, brimming with energy even if it is not constantly action-filled. Fight choreographer Ryan Winkles assists when Scott and Hem, their feelings heightened, finally grapple with one another. The sofa tips, glasses go flying. Nobody gets hurt and a lovely moment of tender recognition concludes the wrestling sequence.
The presence of Miss Montaigne certainly supplies hyper-jolts. Blonde, curvy, sexy, and dressed to accentuate a look of the 1930s by costumer Margaret A. McKowen, she draws immediate attention. The literary lions respond to her, and the question of who, if either, has or will sleep with her cannot be evaded.
A terrific trio, Collins, Koch, and Pierce keep this play escalating and director St. Germain, to his credit, grants the actors flexibility to create. One feels that a window opens on a unique time and locale. Focused dialogue, delivery, and persuasive performances accomplish the rest. The immediacy of this play distinguishes it. Zap: you are there, within the interior of the bungalow, with these two huge figures and the headstrong, enticing gal from MGM. Fireworks on the July 4th.
Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah continues its run through September 29th on the St. Germain Stage at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. For ticket information, visit www.barringtonstageco.org or call (413) 236-8888.
- Fred Sokol