PITTSFIELD -- History -- the men and women who have shaped it, influenced our culture, the ways in which we think, view society -- has been fertile territory for the imagination of playwright Mark St. Germain.
Henry Ford and Thomas Edison; C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud; Dr. Ruth Westheimer; civil rights activist Ann Atwater and Ku Klux Klan Grand Cyclops C.P. Ellis. Now, St. Germain is taking on two literary icons -- F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway -- in his newest play, "Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah," which opened Wednesday in Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Stage after a week of previews. It is scheduled to run through Sept. 29.
Set on the evening of July 4, 1937, in Fitzgerald’s apartment in the notorious Garden of Allah apartment complex in West Hollywood ("the Studio 54 of its day," St. Germain says), "Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah" imagines a meeting there between Fitzgerald, who is hard on deadline to complete revisions on a screenplay for movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, and Hemingway, who unexpectedly shows up at Fitzgerald’s place ostensibly to offer Fitzgerald an opportunity.
The play comes to Pittsfield for the continuation of its two-part rolling world premiere, which began earlier this summer at Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Joey Collins and Angela Pierce are recreating their roles as Fitzgerald and Miss Evelyn Montaigne, executive secretary to Mayer, who is pushing Fitzgerald to meet the urgent deadline for the revisions. Ted Koch is playing Hemingway.
There are several accounts of Hemingway and Fitzgerald meeting in Hollywood.
"If they actually had this meeting, I’m sure neither of them would have talked about it," St. Germain said during a pre-rehearsal interview over coffee and a breakfast sandwich.
St. Germain, who also is directing "Scott and Hem Š," said he’s been intrigued by the idea "of these two literary giants who had such a complicated relationship."
St. Germain described Hemingway as "an incredible bully who would turn on anyone who helped him."
Both men drank heavily. Fitzgerald was an alcoholic. In the play, he’s been on the wagon for some time and is fighting to stay there.
Hemingway, St, Germain says, "was every bit as much the alcoholic as Fitzgerald. The difference was, he knew how to hold his liquor."
Between the two is Miss Montaigne, who is not simply a theatrical device. St. Germain has made her a full-blooded, wholly dimensional character.
"She Š looks at these men full on," St. Germain said.
"My idea wasn’t for (the audience) to love these two men. We see Fitzgerald one way at the beginning and another way at the end.
"Hemingway we get a sense of right from the beginning."
St. Germain began work on "Scott and Hem Š" about a year and half ago. He’s gone through seven or eight drafts and there is no guarantee, he says, that the version being performed at BSC through Sept. 15 will be the final one.
It’s not simply the dynamics between two creative men wrestling with wrenching personal and professional demons that attracted St. Germain. It’s the idea of exploring the process of writing, making art, that appealed to him.
"This play is about process," St. Germain said. "There is something really mysterious about the process (of writing); something self-contained."
St. Germain acknowledges he has taken some liberties in the play, fabricated some events, but, he says, the question he always asks himself in creating a historical figure for the stage is whether the words he gives them, the ideas they express, are true to who they were.
"Is it something they could have said?" St. Germain asked rhetorically. "That’s my rule of thumb.
"The audience has to believe that these men are F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway."
What: "Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah." Written and directed by Mark St. Germain
Who: Barrington Stage Company
When: Now through Sept. 29. Eves. (through Sept. 1): Tue.-Sat. 7:30; Sept. 6-29 -- Wed.-Sat. 7:30. Mats (through Sept. 1): Sat. 4; Sun. 3; additional matinee Aug. 29 at 4; Sept. 6-29 -- Sat. 4; Sun. 3
Where: St. Germain Stage, Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield
Tickets: Start at $40; seniors $32 all matinees
How: (413) 236-8888; barringtonstageco.org; at the box office -- 30 Union St., Pittsfield