The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
September 11, 2011
There’s nothing like a long, drunken evening in a bar in Spain. It’s best to experience this first hand; traveling there is the strongest option, though reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is a pretty solid second. Elevator Repair Service chooses this enduring novel to close its trilogy of staging classic literature with The Select, and the result is mixed. Hemingway diehards will probably appreciate seeing this novel come to life, though quickly come to realize that very little lies beneath the surface. Those who don’t have an affinity for Hemingway and his Lost Generation of American expats will probably find themselves dozing, despite some very loud noises, occasionally clever staging, and solid, if annoying, performances.
Set in a wood-paneled, cluttered barroom (designed by David Zinn, who also created the appealing though non-period costumes), John Collins’s production is a fairly straight-forward retelling. Unlike ERS’ major snob hit Gatz, in which an office drone found a copy of The Great Gatsby sitting on his desk, started reading, and had it spring to life around him, Hemingway’s newspaper man Jake Barnes (Mike Iveson) directly tells us the story of his travails through Paris and Pamplona with a motley assortment of Americans who escaped after World War I.
That group includes Robert Cohn (Matt Tierney), Jake’s college friend, a former boxer, Bill Gorton (Ben Williams), a friend from New York, and British divorcee Lady Brett Ashley (Lucy Taylor), with whom Jake is smitten. Iveson is a compelling narrator, though Jake’s desire for Brett barely registers, which is detrimental to his decision to end his friendship with Robert after Robert takes Brett on a date. Taylor is appropriately alluring, and it’s easy to see how she can attract so many, including Robert and a Spanish bullfighter. Tierney, who, with Williams, designed the sound (all of which is controlled from the stage), is a bit too goofy as Robert, though the sound design is often spectacular. The remaining cast members play their roles with little variation between very soft and extremely loud.
In the three-and-a-half-hour production, there are two major highlights: a dazzling dance sequence in a Parisian bar, and a climactic bull fight in Pamplona. The bull fight, in particular, is intensely creative, with a large folding table representing the bull, manned by an actor chasing the Torero around the stage.
Besides those moments, there is little of which to speak. If it was between this and a trip to Spain, I’d choose the latter.