Set in an office that seemed to exist in a strange time warp—computers with huge monitors, manual typewriters (!) and overflowing shelf units and file cabinets—Gatz was full of surprises. (The wittily detailed set was by Louisa Thompson, the apt costumes by Colleen Werthmann and the fantastically effective lighting by Mark Barton.)
Director John Collins made the more than seven hour running time a breeze with his attention to detail, moving his cast of office workers/Gatsby characters with such naturalness that, as each denizen of this weird space was drawn into a speaking part, it seemed organic and smooth, as well as quite amusing, beginning with Scott Shepherd who, as the first person to pick up the book, took on the character of its narrator Nick Carraway who tells the story, which takes place in 1922, from a future vantage point. Shepherd, who was in it from first to last, deserves the biggest kudos for keeping Gatz afloat with his calm demeanor and quietly stylized readings.
Nick has come to try his hand as a bond salesman in stock-crazy New York. He rents a small home in West Egg, L.I., right next to the huge mansion of Jay Gatsby, man of mystery (Jim Fletcher, smooth, properly mysterious and seductive). Nick is related to beautiful Daisy Buchanan (Tory Vazquez who gave the character more depth than Fitzgerald did) who lives across the bay in the more fashionable East Egg. She is married to rich, but boorish Tom (Pete Simpson, whose transformation from office worker to hulking bully is marvelous). At the Buchanan’s posh house Nick meets professional golfer Jordan Baker (an intense Susie Sokol) who becomes a teasing love interest.
Tom, a nasty adulterer has been having a sexual rendezvous with Myrtle Wilson (a perfect Laurena Allan), the wife off a local garage owner, George (Aaron Landsman, skillfully building his role), nastily involving Nick in his trysts. Myrtle and George, of course, will be involved in the sad denouement of the novel.
Gatsby woos Daisy whom he has loved since his youth and finally wins her over leading to a series of cat and mouse trysts placing the Gatsby/Daisy affair against the Tom/Myrtle affair, all of which eventually leads to the tragic deaths of two characters.
Nick finds out about Gatsby’s shady, but profitable, business dealings and also about changing his name from Gatz to Gatsby.
Jay’s father, Henry C. Gatz (Ross Fletcher, subdued, yet expressive in a tiny role) makes an appearance during the heartbreaking ending of the book which is sensitively portrayed by this company as the office staff winds up its day just as the book ends.
All these intricate relationships and histories were brought to brilliant life by this stalwart cast which also included Kate Scelsa, Lindsay Hockaday, Vin Knight, Ben Jalosa Williams and Gavin Price.
Rather than exhaustion after this epic dramatization, the result was exultation and many mixed emotions from joy to sadness.
Elevator Repair Service has given this treatment to other American classic novels. Perhaps they have found an alternative to audio books?
Gatz (January 23 – February 3, 2019)
Elevator Repair Service
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-998-4941 or visit http://www.nyuskirball.org
Running time: seven and a half-hours including two intermissions and a dinner break