note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Carl A. Rossi
Nick … Scott Shepherd
Jim … Jim Fletcher
Lucille … Kate Scelsa
Jordan … Susie Sokol (Jan. 7-10); Sibyl Kempson (Jan. 12-Feb. 7)
Daisy … Victoria Vazquez
Tom … Gary Wilmes
George … Aaron Landsman (Jan. 7-24); Frank Boyd (Jan. 27-Feb. 7)
Myrtle … Laurena Allan
Catherine … Annie McNamara (Jan. 7-17); Kristen Sieh (Jan. 21-Feb. 7)
Chester … Vin Knight
Michaelis … Ben Williams
Ewing … Mike Iveson
Henry C. Gatz … Ross Fletcher
Yes, what you’ve heard about GATZ is true: a New York ensemble that calls itself Elevator Repair Service presents the entire text of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel THE GREAT GATSBY, word for word. Apart from the Jordan-character narrating her side of things, GATZ is read throughout by a drone in a drab, seedy office where the boss(?) becomes the mysterious Jay Gatsby (both are on the phone, a lot) and his co-workers slip in and out of the book’s other characters. GATZ is in two parts --- taken together, the performance runs close to eight hours: the same length of time that Andy Warhol took to immortalize the Empire State Building on film.
Is GATZ a stage reading? Definitely, though it helps to be familiar enough with the novel so that you needn’t catch every word (Scott Shepherd, the Herculean narrator, is hard to hear in certain parts of the house, especially when face down in his book); hearing the entire novel read aloud, one realizes why THE GREAT GATSBY failed three times as a motion picture: the beauty lies not in its dialogue (funny and sharp as it is) but, rather, in its gliding, cadenced narrative given by Nick, the midwest outsider and voice of reason, how his magic-words draw you into the plot and then whisk you away (RAGTIME suffered the same fate in its transition from page to screen to stage) --- now you can hear, onstage, what cannot be translated into dialogue (though I wince at the thought of some future Gatsby-guest declaiming, “And the turkeys – see how they’re bewitched to a dark gold!”).
Is GATZ a drama? On the page, there is still the nouveau-riche Gatsby (f/n/a Gatz) assuming his shady millions can now bridge the gap between Daisy and himself --- in terms of sweep and spectacle, the office setting never transforms itself into East or West Egg but there are some striking moments where THE GREAT GATSBY actually pokes through: the Eckleburg billboard becomes a bespectacled fellow peering through the back rectangular window; Myrtle’s brownstone bash results in files being scattered in simulated revelry; Gatsby’s succeeding party becomes the staff restoring their office back to order (akin to mingling with cocktails); Klipspringer’s couch-piano rendition of “Ain’t We Got Fun?” nicely concluding Part One; the Gatsby-boss entering in the requisite pink suit (the only true costume change); the stultifying heat and long shadows in the hotel-cage where Gatsby and Tom finally lock horns (a marvelous scene that is mostly all dialogue); the offstage crash that kills Myrtle, soon followed by two gunshots that hit your chest, Dolby-style. Is there acting in the traditional sense? I would never cast half of the company in an out-and-out Gatsby production, but Laurena Allan’s Myrtle is ripe with tenement flavor, and I enjoyed whoever played “Owl-Eyes” (the program is vague with its Who’s Who) --- and when Mr. Shepherd puts down his book into the seventh hour and becomes Nick, himself, GATZ opens up a breathless new door, altogether (my press-kit indicates that Mr. Shepherd has memorized the entire novel).
Is GATZ, “theatre”? There, it stumbles. There is no dramatic contrast between its narration and its setting: the boss and his staff gesture to each other like mutes --- notice, in THE WIZARD OF OZ, how the motifs of the Kansas characters are introduced before Dorothy re-encounters them over the rainbow? --- even when Mr. Shepherd is finally off-book and you can look him full in the face, there is no sense of transcendence on his part. “It’s an acting-class exercise,” whispered my theatre-companion in the dark. I’ll bolster that by comparing GATZ to an all-day English class given in detention, or a marathon-race where you sit and wait to cheer a dear friend who comes in…last, or watching an audio-book being recorded from beginning to end. Forty years ago, GATZ may well have been called a Happening --- a dare pulled off just to prove it can be done and a double-dare to sit through. On the afternoon/evening I attended, the audience rose at curtain call to applaud Elevator Repair Service (and, especially, Mr. Shepherd) for its stamina --- and to stretch its own legs. I staggered out of the A.R.T., exhausted --- not exhilarated-exhausted, just exhausted. Yes, the dare can be done and it can be sat through. Would I see GATZ, again? No, but I’d be curious to see what Elevator Repair Service could do with, say, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, using the same cast and setting (GATZ could use such outrageousness) --- and there is always Mr. Fitzgerald’s masterpiece that can be read, alone, at your leisure --- and for truer pleasure. Class dismissed.