Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 26, 2013

Scott & Hem in the Garden of Allah

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through September 29, 2013
by Shera Cohen

Being a Mark St. Germain “groupie” is not as juvenile as it might sound. After all, this man is not a one-song rock singer or actor of ephemeral fame, but an accomplished playwright whose dialogue is snappy repartee covered with wisdom, intellect, humor, bravado, and warmth. Previous works included “Freud’s Last Session,” “Best of Enemies,” and “Dr. Ruth.” At the most, his pieces number three characters which permit the audience the opportunity to delve into the personalities, as is the case with St. Germain’s latest play, “Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah.”

Literally hot off the computer is the rolling world premiere (translation: opens in several cities simultaneously) of a portrait of two of the most well-known authors in the English language – F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway. St. Germain has studied his subjects extremely well, composing textbook research into conversation, utilizing the writers’ rule, “Show, don’t tell.”

The staging – one of the most elaborate yet at Barrington – is a Hollywood hotel one day in 1937. To call the writers “friends” might be a stretch; perhaps their relationship was that of rivals and/or student and teacher (Scott at the nadir of his career and Hem at the zenith). What make them compatriots are their writing, alcoholism, insecurities, and microscopic knowledge of each other. They speak of death, depression, and sexuality; each cushioned with much humor – not jokes but humor as they look at and question each other and themselves.

by Kevin Spraugue
Joey Collins as Scott and Ted Koch as Hem personify the visual and aural images most have of these two men. Collins’ Scott is prim, proper, and as gentle as his alcoholic demeanor permits. Koch’s Hem is boisterous and hard-edged. The actors seemingly know each other as well as the writers did. Although in a smaller role, Angela Pierce, as a top level secretary holds her own piece of the stage formidably. The authors’ chummy banter drifts into provocative exploratory psychological sessions. The actors/characters have captured their audience.

Kudos to Ryan Winkles’ choreography of the knock-down, drag-out, furniture-tossing fight in which only the actors go unscathed. It’s not always a wise move for the writer to direct his own play, but except for one point at the play’s conclusion (this would be a spoiler), St. Germain has enough talent to take on both important jobs.