nytheatre.com review by Ryan Emmons
October 3, 2010
To attend an eight-hour theatrical event could feel like a sacrifice to the over-scheduled individual of today. Sounds almost like a workday, and indeed looks like one too: Elevator Repair Services' production of Gatz is set in a run-down office. The experience however is magical and transformative, so unless you have a really cool job, this is not your typical workday at all.
An employee sits down at his overcrowded desk and impatiently taps his computer on. Only, it won't go on. He is unsure of what to do until he discovers a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in his rolodex. Since technology has failed him, he opens the book and begins to read out loud for want of anything better to do. His coworkers shuffle in lethargically but he reads on. Their work conversation is muted and cannot be deciphered. The only words we hear are those of Fitzgerald's great American novel of a young man's interaction with 1920s high society as he befriends the mysterious Jay Gatsby (for more of the plot go here).
Slowly, his coworkers begin to embody the characters of the novel and the luxurious world of The Great Gatsby begins to overtake the confines of the mundane office. Director John Collins brilliantly builds to the ecstatic parties and the wild drunken energy of the novel with little more than the throwing of a few manila envelopes and a talented ensemble. Collins evokes the spirit of being read to as a child and brings to light the nuances and humor of Fitzgerald's novel. He uses the office setting to draw connections to Gatsby's world, laughing behind glass and liquor bottles in file holders and secret phone calls. Just as we will never fully understand the intricacies of Jay Gatsby, the office is full of secrets and hiding places. This is much to the credit of set designer Louisa Thompson who creates a hyper-realistic office that reveals itself to be an Escher-like abstraction where time and space mean very little.
The cast works very well together with Scott Shepherd as Nick, our tireless and affable narrator. It is no small task to read an entire novel primarily by oneself on stage but Shepherd does it with ease and enough variation to keep the audience consistently engaged. Each actor generally speaks his or her character's dialogue, while Shepherd reads all of the narration and Nick's part. Jim Fletcher's austere presence gives strength to the aloof Gatsby, yet his pointed performance, while clearly exhibiting Gatsby's objective, demystifies the character. Victoria Vazquez stands out as the lofty Daisy with a voice like money. She creates a Daisy who is conflicted but matter of fact, reaching a level of honesty that makes you forgive her. Gary Wilmes creates a hulk of a preppy muscle-headed man with his portrayal of Daisy's husband Tom. Vin Knight's bookish Owl Eyes is both comic and poignant. Ben Williams does double duty as both the sound designer/operator and actor. Williams plays many of the servants from the book and he plays them well. Laurena Allan is brassy and fun as Tom's mistress Myrtle and Susie Sokol has a good grip on the golf pro Jordan. Every member of the 13-person ensemble exhibits an honesty and commitment that is commendable. It is truly the consistency in style and the way these actors work as an ensemble that make Gatz great.
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." This is the final line of Fitzgerald's novel, and it seems to be the line that Gatz takes most to heart. By the end of the play, the hours that have elapsed seem an essential part of the experience. To give such a duration of time, simply to live in a story, is a rare experience. It bears us back to a time in our own lives when we would hear a story read allowed or even further back into our ancestry when listening to a story around a fire was a popular form of entertainment. Gatz forces us to stop, listen, and leave our everyday lives outside. It is almost a meditation in theatre.