Karen and I saw *GATZ* by the Elevator Repair Service at NYU on 2/2/19. It's an eight-hour staged reading of *The Great Gatsby,* adapted and directed by John Collins. Karen and I saw it at the Public Theater in 2010 and it was one of the most imaginative, beautiful, astonishing things I'd ever seen in my life - - really one of a handful of the greatest things I've ever seen. We both leapt at the chance to see it again, but I started getting a little worried approaching the performance, that it wouldn't live up to my memory of it. I needn't have worried, it was just as brilliant the second time.
The show takes place in the office of a factory. The central character, narrator Nick Carraway, played by the extraordinary Scott Shepherd, walks into the office and tries to turn on his computer, with no luck. He fiddles with it for a while and gives up. He opens a box on his desk and pulls out a copy of *The Great Gatsby.* He starts reading aloud. Another actor, who ends up playing the role of Gatsby, comes in and sits on the other side of the table. It's not clear whether or not he can hear the other guy speaking. Other actors come onstage and gradually they all take on roles in the book.
Karen noticed a gradual change from ordinariness and insularity to theatricality and reaching out to the audience. The show started with Shepherd always reading from the book and never making eye contact with the audience. Eventually he looked at the audience now and then, in a, "Did you catch that?" sort of way. That happened more and more, and he spoke without looking at the text a bit more often. By the final 45 minutes of the show, he was performing completely from memory, sitting in a chair facing us, effortlessly, invitingly speaking directly to us. We never noticed a change in this, it happened incrementally over the course of many hours.
This is a small point, but I think it's worth mentioning: we had very good seats, dead center near the back, in a section that was slightly raised from the rest of the orchestra, with a fantastic view of the stage. I also had a beautiful view of the back of the heads of hundreds of audience members, a carpet of them. I don't think I'd ever noticed this in such a particular way in a show before. Maybe it was the lighting, maybe it was the peculiar actor-to-audience atmosphere set up by the show. It was touching, it enhanced the feeling of community.
Susie Sokol played Jordan Baker, Nick's girlfriend. She's my favorite actor in the company, she has a quirky and intelligent presence. She was given the only extended moments of narration in the show, apart from Shepherd's - - Jordan tells the story of how she and Daisy met, and Collins gave that sequence to her.
Jim Fletcher played Gatsby. If you expect Gatsby to look like Alan Ladd, Robert Redford, or Leonardo di Caprio (who played him in the movies), you're in for a surprise with this guy - - he's tall, bald, and exudes a brooding sexuality. His low affect blankness was a perfect match for Shepherd's low affect warmth. Gatsby's father shows up at the end of the show, and the role has been played by Fletcher's actual father since 2005. It adds an extra layer of tenderness and tragedy, having that role played by his real father.
Daisy and Tom were played by Tory Vazquez and Pete Simpson. They had the dramatic high point of the show, in the scene where Daisy is being pressured by Gatsby to tell her husband (Tom) that she never loved him (Tom). Vazquez perfectly conveyed the confusion and feeling of being pulled in different directions, and Simpson had a menacing presence, coursing with male power, sitting with his back to the audience throughout the scene.
The lighting in general was tremendous, but one tiny moment of lighting and sound design completely destroyed me. The show takes place in the office of a factory and often a character comes into or leaves through a door at the back of the stage, and when the door opens you hear the machinery in the factory. This happens three or four times in the first section of the show. Late in that section, we're hearing about Gatsby sitting at the end of his dock and looking across the water at the green light at end of Daisy's dock, across the water. This green light seems to beckon to him. The lights are low in the office and it's very quiet. Director John Collins stages it so that at one point the actor playing Gatsby goes over to the door and opens it, and rather than hearing the machinery in the factory we hear crickets chirping and a tiny green light comes on, on the left side of the stage, at the precise moment that the door opens. The first time I saw the show, that moment put me in deep, heaving sobs. It was so shocking and so full of theatrical magic.
That moment haunted me for the last nine years and I was anticipating it, hotly awaiting it. I knew it wouldn't have the same impact it had the first time because it wouldn't have the surprise. But the emotional impact was still there. I didn't have deep, heaving sobs, but it did cover me with chills and alter my breathing.