In December I went to see Elevator Repair Service’s production of GATZ at the REDCAT downtown. GATZ was the enactment of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. Word for word. You read that right. Every “and” and “the” and “he said / she said.” The show started at 2 p.m. and we got out of there (with a few breaks including one for dinner) at some time after 10 p.m. I loved it.
It began with one worker grabbing a paperback copy of Gatsby when his computer wouldn’t boot up. He casually and without any emotion read aloud from the book, as if he was just passing time ’til his computer would get going. The computer never did and he kept reading… the story pulling him in, and us along with it. As the book progressed and the “play” unfolded, he slowly took on the role of Nick the narrator with his fellow office workers taking on the other roles. Seamlessly.
Props and furniture around the office were incorporated to help create the world of the book. Papers in manila file folders were tossed around to create a party atmosphere, a clock on a desk became part of Gatsby’s fancy boat, his tailor-made shirts were kept in file cabinets.
My only quibble was that sometimes the humor on stage undercut the actual Gatsby story (and the three English teachers I happened to be sitting next to seemed to feel the same way). It’s a minor quibble because I was totally in the world of these characters. Fortunately somewhere in the mid-point, the humor was no longer a part of the staging, so the tragic events that happen later were allowed their full weight.
By the end, Scott Shepherd, who played our narrator, had put down the book and “told” us the last 10 – 15 minutes, no longer reading it. He’d totally become Nick and was relaying the final moments as if they were a part of his life.
Not only was the audacity of this production inspiring, so was Elevator Repair Service’s tenacity in mounting it. It took them literally years to get the rights to do it… and they even began rehearsing before they had the rights. They invited audiences to what they decided to call “working rehearsals” and not “performances” to stay below the radar.
Let’s hear it for tenacity and doing art outside the box.