Just go. Stop making excuses, and go. You’ll like it. It’s good for you. You won’t get bored. You’ll appreciate spending the seven plus hours not succumbing to your busy life. You’ll fall in love with the book, you’ll fall in love with the performers. You’ll be energized.
Gatz is a rare opportunity to sit in an audience, and know that you are a part of something very, very special.
I approached seeing Gatz as I would prepare for a long flight. I wore non-constricting clothes. I packed some socks and a sweatshirt in case it got cold. I stopped at the coffeeshop on my way to make sure I’d stay alert. I aimed to get there early to get a seat with legroom. I brought an apple and a crossword, just in case. I was skeptical going in, certain I’d lose interest at some point. Seven hours is a loooong time. But, I figured I’d at least get to check “read The Great Gatsby for real” off my list, without having to actually read it. It wasn’t like I was going into seven hours of challenging abstract performance art.
Like seeing Shakespeare, it took a few pages to warm up to the style of language. But once the plot kicked off and a few characters were introduced, I was sold. I was in for the long haul, almost immediately. In the beginning, relationships on stage between the office employees are pretty casual. There are no friendships, rivalries, or alliances, and they don’t seem to particularly care about each other’s business. This allows the relationships inside the book to be the focus. The actors and the audience could then become attached, involved, and committed to the story at the same rate.
The play takes place in a dingy, anonymous office, and the musty Imago Theater worked perfectly as a venue. Shelves of cardboard boxes, yellowing posters, outdated technology, greenish metal tables, and torn vinyl swivel chairs provide a bland backdrop for the action. The passing of days are marked through the sounds of a bustling city outside.
For such a mammoth accomplishment, Gatz operates on a pretty simple conceit. A man goes to work. His computer is broken, so he has nothing to do. He discovers a worn copy of The Great Gatsby in his desk and begins to read aloud. He continues to read until the end of the book.
As he is reading, the novel begins to come to life in his surroundings. It begins as happy coincidences (a phone rings right before he reads, “the phone rang.”). Then, his coworkers begin to take on characters until the office becomes completely absorbed in the novel. The actors seem confused as to what is going on. Does the novel overcome them? Or, are they driving the plot themselves? Possession of the story is made unclear (and F. Scott Fitzgerald is barely referenced in the program notes). I found this blurred possession a key component to keeping the performance alive for such a long time.
Gatz strikes a perfect balance between the simplicity of reading a novel aloud, and the theatrics of staging a play. It turns the private, solitary experience of reading into something public and shared. It respects the language of the book, but avoids obnoxious reverence. The actors approach both their employee roles and the roles of the novel with an understated psychology that allows the language of the book to maintain the momentum of the show. Gatz mines the simple pleasure of reading, and adds just the right amount of texture through beautiful lighting, 20s music, and incredible acting. It is like a library Story Hour for adults—capturing the childish joy of witnessing a beloved book come to life, but with the sophistication and tenderness of a forward-thinking theater company.
In the end, I felt, well, as if I’d been on an airplane. But instead of feeling woozy from half-napping for seven hours, I felt as though I’d engaged in conversation the whole time with an incredible new friend I’d never see again. I was a little out of it, but felt a little bigger in the heart. I can’t think of a lovelier way to spend an afternoon/evening.
posted by Kirsten Collins