F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, directed by JOHN COLLINS
ELEVATOR REPAIR SERVICE, EMPAC, NOV.22
In the eight decades since F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The
Great Gatsby, his jazz-age novel of one man’s romantic
obsession crashing against cold reality (and colder American
dollars), the well-loved story has consistently resisted adaptation
for the stage or screen. It wasn’t for lack of trying—but
few were happy with the multiple attempts. Some takes captured
the atmosphere of wealth and 1920s excess but missed the dramatic
empahsis; usually the adaptations omitted key scenes or added
Or maybe it’s because so much of the novel consists of the
musings of its narrator, naïve Midwestern transplant Nick
Carraway. Or it’s because the title character, Jay Gatsby,
and the object of Gatsby’s devotion, Daisy Buchanan, are so
elusive and difficult to bring to life.
New York City experimental theater group Elevator Repair Service
decided to do Gatsby the hard way: Gatz is staged
around a verbatim reading of the entire novel—including every
“he said” and “she said”—from beginning to end. Most of this
work falls to one actor, with dialogue spoken by the other
performers. They break it into four sections, divided by two
intermissions and a dinner break. (At this weekend’s performances
at the theater in RPI’s gleaming new EMPAC building, dinner
was included with the ticket.) The whole thing runs a little
over seven and a half hours. And mostly, against the odds,
the concept works.
The setting is more or less contemporary: a dingy, faux wood-paneled
office set with a short couch and two desks, holding a typewriter,
computer and some papers at the center of the stage; a glassed-in
secretary’s office on the left connects to a hallway running
along the back of the stage, which can be seen though a small
picture window and a door; the scene is rounded out by some
filing cabinets and a storage area at right and a scattering
of office chairs.
At the beginning, a man comes in the door, sits at his desk,
turns on his computer, and opens a big rolodex. (That’s why
it’s “more or less” contemporary; the office equipment is
just a little out of date.) Inside that rolodex is a copy
of The Great Gatsby. He begins reading. Various people
come and go, including a disapproving secretary, a tall man
who may be the boss, a swaggering blue-collar guy, and a mysterious
woman who mostly sits on the couch reading a golf magazine.
Three other women (and three other men) appear briefly.
The man (Scott Shepherd) continues to read. The pantomimes
of the other performers start to suggest the characters in
the book. Finally, the swaggering fellow (Gary Wilmes) starts
speaking Tom Buchanan’s dialogue. The magazine reader becomes
golfer Jordan Baker (Susie Sokol); the boss (Jim Fletcher)
becomes Jay Gatsby. The other actors become other characters,
as the action mutates from a guy reading a book to a dramatic
staging of the story. It’s weird, unsettling and totally effective.
Elevator Repair Service is a company of actors, nonactors
and performers who fall somewhere in between. The effect is
disarming. While Shepherd (who becomes, naturally, Nick),
Wilmes and Laurena Allan (who hilariously channels Kirsten
Dunst as Tom’s mistress, the hapless Myrtle Wilson) give full-blooded
performances, as Gatsby and Jordon, Fletcher and Sokol (who
teaches second grade as her day job) present effective archetypes.
The other actors are all over the place: Annie McNamara plays
multiple roles with elan and Vin Knight is brilliant as the
owl-eyed man in Gatsby’s library. Tory Vazquez is a woeful
One problem even this ensemble couldn’t crack is that the
book has an early dramatic climax and a long, meditative denouement.
And after six-plus hours, the last section, while beautiful
and essential, seemed long. But in a production of this scale
and ambition, that almost seems like a petty complaint. Gatz
was a rewarding afternoon (and evening).