A late follow-up to my earlier post on the play.
Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz continues at the ART through February 7th (tickets $20-75 per part), though it’s clearly not as successful as Sleep No More, which is impossible to get tickets to any more unless (I hear) you make a nice little membership donation, or The Donkey Show, for which people are still lining up at Zero Arrow for. As far as productions actually at the Loeb go, the unfortunate (but somewhat expected) bomb that was Best of Both Worlds might’ve sold less tickets, but Gatz doesn’t seem to be generating the local audience it deserves, much less one that matches the hype. My girlfriend attended Part 2 last Friday and reported slim attendance. I’m figuring it’s Gatz‘s duration that’s scaring people away even if it is, as I said in my last post, its greatest strength.
As much as I liked the show, particularly through the last hour or two, it does have a lot of cheap meta-humor that resembles the lesser jokes of an episode of 30 Rock. I’ll provide a few examples, mostly from Part 1, where the text is basically mocked, not in order to convey anything, but, it would seem, to force a few laughs out of the audience (who also thought it was funny that Wolfshiem’s “business” was named the “Swastika Holding Company,” remember the book came out in 1925) to break up the monotony.
“Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction” → Nick, in an emphasized gesture, turns to the cover to check if it indeed says “Gatsby” on it.
“Father agreed to finance me for a year and after various delays” → The office phone rings.
“They knew that presently dinner would be over and a little later the evening too would be over and casually put away.” → A piece of paper is put (away) into a filing cabinet.
“He was a son of God–a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that” → Nick shrugs, not understanding what Fitzgerald or the phrase means.
“Sometimes in the course of gay parties women used to rub champagne into his hair” → Jim Fletcher (playing Gatsby) is bald.
“”Keep your hands off the lever,” snapped the elevator boy.” → The elevator boy (played by the sound guy who handles the sound on-stage and plays about a dozen small roles) tells his passengers to keep their hands off his laptop.
“”All right, I’ll tell him.” Abruptly he slammed the door.” → The butler (again the sound guy) presses a button on his laptop triggering a sound effect of a door slamming.
It’s been a while since I saw it and all six hours is a lot to take in and process, but I do have some general impressions to relate. Jordan (Suzie Sokol for the performance I saw, but three actresses through the run) seemed a comic exaggeration of herself. She seemed out of place in both the settings of Gatz and Gatsby, though this is not necessarily fault of the actress(es), but rather Elevator Repair Service’s reading of the character.
If you don’t remember from high school, Jordan and Nick’s romance develops largely between the lines of the novel, as the book isn’t really about Nick and his girl, but Gatsby and his. ERS cleverly stages Fitzgerald’s mostly impressioned romance by having Jordan appear on stage next to Nick more and more as the play progresses, even if she’s not involved in the passage Nick happens to be reading. Jordan herself reads the passage from Chapter 3, where she relates to Nick Daisy and Gatsby’s failed romance and her wedding to Tom, another smart touch that effectively stages the shift in narration and the burgeoning intimacy between Nick and Jordan.
Gatsby is so popular and accessible because it is a page turner. Fitzgerald withholds most of the facts (if we can in fact rely on our narrator) of who Gatsby is until Chapter 6, more than halfway through the novel. Up until then, Gatsby is a mystery and the primary object of a reader’s “desire to know.” ERS conveys Fitzgerald’s sense of mystery by having Gatsby float on and off stage from the beginning of the play, before the character actually enters the narrative–just as Fitzgerald drops his name from the get-go without telling us who he is.
Chapter Two’s New York apartment party, where Nick tags along with Tom and Myrtle, is probably the most elegantly staged scene of the play and deservingly so, because it’s one of the book’s best parts and the only look we get at Myrtle’s true colors. With just some music, a few chairs pulled together, and a couple of liquor bottles and glasses that appear out of a filing cabinet, ERS and director John Collins covey the passage’s utter sense of drunken chaos, with Myrtle mumbling to herself. For me, here, ERS surpassed the novel. The second New York (failed) party scene in the Plaza Hotel just before the car accident (pictured above), is not pulled off quite as well, but it’s certainly striking to look at and is a theatrical tableau of the highest merit. Too often local productions slack on their purely visual elements.
About a quarter of Louisa Thompson’s set, that’s actually a little small for the Loeb stage, holds nothing more than two or so rows of steel shelving stuffed with papers and file boxes. It’s actually one of the more elaborate prop/set pieces of the entire production and functions more as a metaphor to Gatz‘s narration and narrator than a component of the shabby office that doubles as the novel’s settings.
There are a number of narrative hiccups in The Great Gatsby. Portions of the novel’s chronology don’t quite add up and when Nick asks Gatsby “What part of the middle-west?” he’s from, Gatsby replies “San Francisco.” Some attribute these chronological and geographical errors to Fitzgerald’s laborious process of re-writing and the fact that he lived abroad while writing much of the book. Others think they were intentionally inserted by Fitzgerald to signal to his more meticulous readers that Nick’s narration is, at least in part, unreliable. Even though I’m not crazy about Fitzgerald, I’m in the second school, and I think ERS is as well. The jumbled, unorganized files articulate this unreliability, this sense of disorder. The Jazz Age tragedy which Nick recounts is manifested here in these records that, given their dishevelled state, aren’t a complete (or completely accurate) record.
The 100 most used words in The Great Gatsby: