A CurtainUp Boston Review
One of the greatest pleasures of this production, set in a grimy office stretched to Kafkaesque proportions to fit the Loeb stage, is savoring each word and rhythmic phrase — as well as catching the Twain-like archness of the satire and Fitzgerald's occasional awkwardness. When we hear that "a tiny gust of powder rose" from socialite Daisy Buchanan's bosom (played by a fetching Victoria Vazquez), the actors watch skeptically for that satirically overwrought puff.
Gatz begins as office worker Nick (Scott Shepherd) sits down at his dismal little desk, tries to reboot his computer, and is about to schlep through his workaday tedium when his Rolodex opens to reveal a copy of The Great Gatsby. Shepherd starts to read, haltingly at first, then with increasing absorption and rapture.
Audiences will question the relationship between the frame and the story, how manic desire and conspicuous consumption have conspired to produce the American workplace. At the performance I attended they did in fact do so. But Gatz is really mostly about reading. It's about the pleasures of seduction by a book, how characters sound in your head, how perusing a novel in a public place makes other people suspicious about what you're thinking.
Nick hears a boom onstage; a loud clang occurs in the story. He reads that Nick Carraway is a bond salesman; he stares at his own work, which looks a lot like bond sales. Elevator Repair Service wisely refuses to clear up whether these conjunctions of book and world are coincidental, magical, or psychological.
As Nick continues to read, the voices he ventriloquizes are assigned to his co-workers, who are conscripted into the story. Even the sound designer, Ben Williams, onstage but outside the office, is pulled into the world of the book.
One of Fitzgerald's squibs is that real people always fail to satisfy the voracious demands of the imagination, so it makes sense that Nick's co-workers become the lackluster tools out of which he constructs the story that gradually takes over the stage. James Gatsby, we hear, has a full head of hair; Jim (Jim Fletcher), who gets sucked into that role, is balding. These comic disconnections are poignant and funny, a reminder that both theater and novels often succeed most when they leave imaginative gaps that we have to fill.
The ensemble is astoundingly good, hovering between office cartoons and 1920s caricatures. But the vocal — not to mention physical — athleticism of Scott Shepherd steals the show. Although he has about the last fifteen pages committed to memory, Shepherd reads practically non-stop with occasional interjections from the actors (Gary Wilmes' unlikely Tom Buchanan and Laurena Allan's Myrtle are the stand-outs here). Shepherd's Nick becomes the mid-Western voice of conscience, with an austere nasal twang that both soothes and accuses. Ben Williams' robust sound score nearly makes Shepherd hoarse, but his voice remains intelligible despite an orchestra of car screeches, door slams and wild party music.
Elevator Repair Service runs out of invention a little while before they run out of novel. Fitzgerald's scenes of group chatter translate most easily to the stage, and the last hour or so of exposition can seem like an under-dramatized grind. That said, I've never left a theater production more ready to pick up a novel and to think about what I read as I read.
Gatz is quietly virtuosic, athletic, and necessary experimental theater-a valuable adjuration to reclaim time to think, to wonder, to re-populate your imaginative landscape. When it ends, you might feel as bereft as when you've closed the final pages of a great book.