Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Photo: Joan Marcus

is an emperor's new clothes production of an emperor's new clothes novel. The show starts with an interesting premise: unable to work due to computer problems, a man in an office in the 1980s starts reading The Great Gatsby out loud. And by the end of the 6-plus-hour show, he has read the entire book, out loud, while people from his office have turned into F. Scott Fitzgerald's characters. Unfortunately, the show lacks a consistent concept. It is not clear why certain people do or do not say lines (for example, one character is played partially by the narrator and partially by someone else, in the same scene), or why an actress playing a character who is injured in the novel is still wearing a bandage when she goes back to being the narrator's co-worker, or why the whole thing is set in a 1980's office in the first place. Yes, the office does provide contrast to the opulence of Gatsby's existence, but, so what? Other problems with the show include the fact that Jim Fletcher as Gatz is a singularly unseductive presence, totally lacking the warm smile that Fitzgerald mentions repeatedly. Is this a comment on The Great Gatsby? If so, what is it saying? The show does include some wonderful moments; the merging of noises in the office with noises in the novel works nicely; and Scott Shepherd is a fine narrator.

As for the novel, considered by many to be "the great American novel": somewhat based on Fitzgerald's own experiences, it depicts only a small part of America, and finding the moral decay in bootlegging isn't exactly earth-shattering. The book ignores the multi-ethicity of America, focusing 99% on white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and its depiction of the one Jewish character mentions his nose in virtually every sentence (I'm sorry, but eyes flash, noses don't). Fitzgerald presents cynicism as insight, and while his line-by-line writing is often superb, it's not enough. Fitzgerald is famous for saying "There are no second acts in American lives"; here again he shows tunnel vision, unable to see past his own experience. Fitzgerald's drinking precluded his personally ever having a second act, but the United States is a place full of second, third, fourth, and fifth acts. In fact, the country itself is founded on the second acts of the millions of people who have immigrated here.


Timothy Childs said...

While I understand the basic premise of GATZ (and I'm not sure it's enough to get me to sit still in a theatre for six hours), I'm unclear as to its purpose: what do we get from seeing office workers re-enacting/reading THE GREAT GATSBY? Does the production offer anything more substantial than the theatricalization of the novel?

Also, the comment:

"[the novel] depicts only a small part of America, and finding the moral decay in bootlegging isn't exactly earth-shattering"

seems unnecessary (if not off-base). Why pull into question the value of what is widely considered one of America's greatest novels (unless you are going to tie it into your review of the production)?

Wendy Caster said...

I felt it was appropriate to criticize the novel because it's the script of this show.

As for my criticism being an off-base comment: I'm aware that my dislike of Gatsby is unusual and considered by many to just be plain wrong. As a past English major, I read the book multiple times, and now I've sat through a long reenactment of it, and I remain unimpressed.

And, hey, I'm a reviewer--I like to express my opinions!

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Wendy Caster said...

Also, in answer to your question: "Does the production offer anything more substantial than the theatricalization of the novel?" My answer would be no.

Did you happen to see the NYTW production of three Flannery O'Connor short stories some years ago? I was hoping for a similar approach to presenting every word of a non-playwright's writing. It was amazing.

Timothy Childs said...

Hi Wendy,
Thanks for your response. I of course appreciate your right to your opinion of THE GREAT GATSBY (myself, I can't stand GREAT EXPECTATIONS). I suppose I was just wishing for a bit more analysis of the production rather than its source material..but if, as you say, there wasn't anything more substantial to it, then there you have it! Thanks for clarifying.

Timothy Childs