On May 14, 1920, a young couple signed a 5-month lease for a modest gray cottage on Compo Road South.
It was not big news. In fact, it took the Westporter-Herald — the local newspaper that chronicled every visitor, gathering and event in town — until the next month to run this small item:
“F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer, has leased the Wakeman Cottage near Compo Beach.”
But the honeymoon home of Fitzgerald and his new bride Zelda — they’d gotten married on April 3 –had a profound impact on both. It appears in more of their collective works than any other place they lived.
With good reason. The couple drank and partied all summer long.
On May 14, 2019 — 99 years to the day after that now-legendary lease-signing — Westport will officially recognize that event.
The cottage that once abutted larger-than-life multimillionaire Frederick E. Lewis’ property (now Longshore Club Park) still stands. Today it’s a handsome home. First Selectman Jim Marpe will stand there, and declare “Great Gatsby Day” in town.
The official proclamation — a combination of legalese and whimsy — begins:
“Whereas, it was an age of miracles. It was an age of art. It was an age of excess and it was an age of satire….”
But that’s not the only Fitzgerald-Westport connection this month.
On Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and 19, the Westport Community Theater presents a costumed stage reading of The Vegetable.
If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry.
Richard “Deej” Webb — the Westport historian who collaborated with Robert Steven Williams on a film and book that describe the Fitzgeralds’ Westport sojourn, and make the strong case that it heavily influenced The Great Gatsby — calls it “his worst work.”
The Vegetable is Fitzgerald’s only full-length play. It was his lone attempt to establish himself as a successful playwright, and his sole foray into political satire.
The plot involves an accidental president who undergoes impeachment. Coming during the corrupt administration of Warren Harding — who died the year it was published — it was “ahead of its time,” Webb says.
To call it forgotten today is an understatement. According to Webb, it was last performed in the 1990s.
The WCT has modified it a bit. What Webb calls “a racist scene” has been edited out.
That may have been a product of its time. But nearly a century later, impeachment is back in the news.
And — at least in Westport — F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are too.
(The staged reading of The Vegetable is Saturday, May 18 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 19 at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 203-226-1983.)