The Green Light

This is, above all, a theater review of the Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz, at A.R.T.

And now I will go write the great American blog-- er, novel.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

And so begins F. Scott Fitzgerald’s haunting and enduring classic The Great Gatsby.  Perhaps you were once forced to read this book in a high school literature class, perhaps you read it just this past summer.  We all have novels we return to, and this is one of them for me.  After utterly failing to appreciate and understand it in high school (parties!  liquor!  oh, to be rich!), I’ve read it three or four times since:  Once through the New York Times Great Summer Read in 2004 (the paper printed a chapter of a classic each Friday, a wonderful way to read several novels in a summer that was quickly discontinued when no one but me had the time), and several times at a dear friend’s family summer house in the Hamptons.

A winery in Southold produces this, though it's about as drinkable as Tom Buchanan's contempt.

Rereading the novel there, over luxurious weekends given over to cooking, dining out, laughing with old friends, riding a carousel (seriously), and reading, is what I most associate with the experience of reading Gatsby.  Perhaps because they live on a beautiful lake, complete with its own dock, on which I do most of the reading, and sometimes, yes, imagine the green light across the lake.  Perhaps because of being able to discuss it with close, old friends who know the novel too.  No matter what reason, it’s the perfect way to enter Fitzgerald’s gilded, roaring age.  (I’ve always thought, out there in NY on the water, ‘The Green Light’ would make a perfect name for a cafe or bookstore.)

Recently I had the opportunity to take in the Elevator Repair Service theater company’s two-part, six-hour production of Gatz, (with my wonderful sister Alexandria, someone as crazy as me to undertake this!) it’s rendering of The Great Gatsby in which a group of ostensibly ordinary office workers (acting, people– acting!) read aloud and perform every word of the novel, eventually becoming the characters.

Nick Carraway is us.

Yup, you read that right:  Every word of the novel, in one night.  It’s a marathon (there is a one hour or so dinner break, in which I recommend wine).  Word is the show is coming to the elusive Big Apple soon (previously barred due to legalities, blah blah blah) and while it’s a crazy thing to do, I recommend seeing it:  It’s a theatrical event, a force that will stay with you.

Not that you’d know that through the first hour.  No, even I, who adore and recently-enough read the novel, was falling asleep in the first hour as Scott Shepherd, as Nick, simply reads the novel.  Zzz, you might think, I could stay home in my jammies and listen to this on tape.  But as we move into chapter two, in the infamous Nick, Jordan, Tom, Myrtle drunken afternoon in NYC that goes south, the piece comes alive, and these office workers become, in front of your eyes, in a way only live theater can do, the characters in the novel.  In a way no film version of the book has ever succeeded to do, the novel comes to life.

Every damn word, but now it really starts to cook.

And then it cooks, the last–seriously–four hours fly by, and you can’t believe it all works, and the cumulative total of this epic tragedy that plays out in front of you hits you like a ton of bricks.  You yearn for Nick Carraway.

Speaking of Nick, the actor Scott Shepherd must be singled out.  He has, seriously, 75% of the text, and what begins as a deceptively unengaged, simple performance becomes a tour-de-force.  His work also refocuses the novel, and makes you realize that though we all long to be Gatsby (not Jimmy Gatz), we are Nick, and it his story.

The other singular mentions must be the director  and originator John Collins.  To have the cajones to stage every word of The Great Gatsby, well…  it’s akin to the sheer cajones it takes to turn a poor Jimmy Gatz into Jay Gatsby.

Jimmy Gatz-- we all know where he's headed.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The information super highway moves pretty fast.  This post was tweeted by The A.R.T., and you can follow them here.  That said, I twitter here.


2 Responses to “The Green Light”

  1. Tweets that mention The Green Light « Wally's Blog -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The A.R.T. and wally m-l, marybeth. marybeth said: RT @americanrep: RT @wallyml: "Gatz": […]

  2. Christine Says:

    What a great post on Gatz! I saw it in the middle of the run and was really impressed. I think one of the best parts of the production was the way it made me see The Great Gatsby, a veritable classic novel, as accessible and could easily relate to and care for the characters. I’m hearing similar things about the A.R.T.’s next show, Paradise Lost. From what I hear, it’s going to be a completely new interpretation of the play/novel that leaves you thinking about it in a whole new light…sounds like it’s right up our alley!

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