Theatre Review: Is "Gatz" a part of the rotten crowd of Gatsby Adaptations? Or is it worth the whole damn bunch?
The premise of Gatz sounded like lunacy to me: an eight-hour play (with 3 breaks included) in which an actor, playing the part of the narrator Nick Carraway, reads F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” from cover to cover, as other cast members act out the parts of Gatsby, Tom, Daisy, Jordan, etc.
The only new framing device is that Gatz begins with a bored office worker (during the turn of the millennium, I assume -- what with the boxy computers and boxy dress shirts) picking up a battered copy of the novel. As he begins reading it aloud, he assumes the form of Nick Carraway, and the dreary 1999 New York office fades and gives way to Gatsby’s hedonistic Jazz Age setting.
It’s the most uncompromising, audacious adaptation of a classic work of fiction I’ve ever seen. This theatre company, Elevator Repair Service, revere Fitzgerald’s writing so much that they don’t alter or delete a single passage. They just bring vivacity and deep feeling to every exquisite bit of prose and dialogue. I’ve read the book a handful of times, but I had forgotten the unique emotional contours of the story; Gatz reminded me of this tragedy of grandiose dreams leaving suffocating plumes of despair in the dreamer’s wake.
Admittedly, my haste to forget about Gatsby had to do with Baz Lurhmann’s 2013 cinematic version, where he manhandled the tale until it resembled an aggressively adolescent vanilla opera. It was difficult to revisit the book with that thing seared into my mind. Gatz sets it right again by rigidly adhering to the text’s melancholic mood and entirely foregoing the artless spectacle of a Roaring ‘20s party.
This bold and unusually reverential approach would fall apart – agonizingly, over hours -- if the actor portraying Nick Carraway -- the observer of the rich people’s destructive dramas -- isn’t up to the physically and mentally demanding task of narrating and acting out an entire book. Thankfully, Scott Shepherd as the last honest man Nick Carraway is a revelation, with his crisp-as-a-freshly-fallen-autumn-leaf voice and polite bewilderment bestowing sad and funny layers to Carraway’s watchfulness. Jim Fletcher hones in on Jay Gatsby’s hollowness and his desperation to fill that hollowness by recreating the past with such deftness that by turns you’re frustrated by him and want to give him a hug. Annie McNamara as Daisy, April Matthis as Jordan, and Pete Simpson as Tom all add the necessary colours and have excellent chemistry with Scott Shepherd.
It’s a high-wire act of a show, managing to sustain interest for nearly all of its six hours by extracting all the power from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved little masterpiece. This re-appreciation was quite the ride.