Woody Allen’s time-traveling 2011 movie Midnight in Paris portrays, among other things, the 1920s friendship of expat American literary giants F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
Mark St. Germain’s play Scott and Hem, now closing out the regular season at Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables, checks in on the relationship under vastly different conditions.
It’s the Fourth of July, 1937, and a nine-days-sober Fitzgerald (Tom Wahl) is trying mightily to bang out a screenplay in apartment 5B at West Hollywood’s famous Garden of Allah enclave. Eve Montaigne (Jennifer Christa Palmer), a studio employee with her own agenda, is on hand as a sobriety coach, typist and deadline enforcer. But when Hemingway (Gregg Weiner) pounds on the door and charges into Fitzgerald’s digs, combative conversation and disruptive chaos ensue.
Scott and Hem is a short play that packs a hefty amount of information into its (barely) 80-minute running time. There are references to the writers’ great novels, of course; to the likely roots of Hemingway’s complicated attitudes towards women and his unrelenting machismo; to Fitzgerald’s fraught relationship with his wife Zelda, then ensconced in North Carolina’s Highland Hospital, where she would later die in a fire.
The fleeting ecstasy and greater agony of writing is on the conversational table, too, and St. Germain has his famous characters make all-too-true observations about the insecurity of even the greatest novelists. Self-medicating with alcohol comes up for discussion too: The witty, sardonic Eve has more than a year of sobriety behind her; Fitzgerald is tenuously clinging to his, and Hemingway is washing multiple doses of Dexedrine down with a steady stream of booze.
In bringing the play to life, director David Arisco has cast a pair of impressive Carbonell Award-winning actors as the literary giants.
Wahl, sporting Fitzgerald-styled hair and a smoking jacket (the artful costumes are by Ellis Tillman, the wigs by Gerard Kelly), is handsome and patrician, believable as the Jazz Age great who gave the world The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night and so much more. Weiner’s Hemingway is crude, lascivious toward Eve and, underneath his cocky veneer, awash in the depression that would eventually lead to his tragic suicide. Palmer’s Eve is a type, a smart gal trying to keep Fitzgerald and her own career from derailing. But the play’s juice comes from the back-and-forth of Wahl and Weiner.
Scott and Hem features a handsome period set by Gene Seyffer and Mitch Furman, and lighting design by Luke Klingberg that ranges from a mood-setting sunset to a jarring wash of green as Hemingway exits reciting words from The Great Gatsby. The play itself is a minor look at major figures, but Wahl and Weiner keep the clash of two troubled titans intriguing.