Tea with Edie & Fitz
Through June 18

N.C. State’s TheatreFEST, Raleigh

When youth conspicuously throws itself at age, a stratagem or two is usually involved. Whether or not brash Jazz Age chronicler F. Scott Fitzgerald actually admired the literary achievements of patrician The Age of Innocence novelist Edith Wharton, he certainly envied her financial success and old-money social connections among Manhattan’s upper crust. So, the stories say, he literally flung himself at her feet, declaring at least a belletristic ardor during a chance encounter at Scribner’s. That—plus a signed copy of The Great Gatsby, hand-delivered—got Fitzgerald an invitation to Wharton’s estate for tea.

Even—or particularly—if you already know just how badly that meet-cute ended, you still might want to catch the young playwright Adam Pasen’s odd historical drama, Tea with Edie & Fitz, in a game production at N.C. State’s TheatreFEST. Though Wharton and Fitzgerald’s gin-soaked dustup was at best a momentary footnote in either author’s life, Pasen tries to fashion it into a linchpin connecting two dysfunctional artistic relationships of far greater significance: Wharton’s long affiliation with mentor Henry James and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s doomed marriage to Zelda Fitzgerald.

No matter how amusing the titular anecdote is—and Rachel Klem’s worldly Edith and Jackson Cooper’s self-centered Scott are both quite entertaining under Mia Self’s direction—that center link remains the weakest in this literary tale. Either James and Wharton or Scott and Zelda could have better filled an evening on their own.

As things stand, Pasen and Self give actor Katie Barrett some room to explore Zelda’s intriguingly manic, moody depths, bolstered by Adrienne McKenzie’s fetching period costumes and Jayme Mellema’s eye-popping literary set. But the playwright leaves Brook North’s James as little more than Wharton’s sounding board, a ghost character in more than one sense of the word. Both actor and subject deserve better.

Correction: This post’s photo caption originally misidentified the second actor pictured. She is Katie Barrett, not Rachel Klem.