A CurtainUp Review
The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
By Elyse Sommer
Compared the the 6-hour and 20-minute Gatz, The Select, which clocks in at 3 and a half hours, including intermission, is less likely to put off people unwilling to give up an afternoon and evening of their lives — people who might, like Robert Cohn, one of the principal characters in The Sun Also Rises, be afraid of staying in one place too long without experiencing adventure. (As Cohn tells narrator, Jake Barnes "I can't stand it to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it.") Of course, plenty of people thought the time spent watching the ERS actors read every single word (including the he saids and and she saids) was a not to be missed theatrical adventure.
The less time consuming The Select is still a hefty theatrical meal. But both Les Gutman, Curtainup's longtime Elevator Repair Service watcher and my companion at last Thursday's press performance, found it to be a nourishing and enjoyable meal, an experience that successfully brings Hemingway's 1926 novel back to life.
Unlike Gatz which intensified Elevator's connection to the text by putting the book into the actors' hands, as for a reading, the approach this time is more in the nature of a staged adaptation. That's not to say that the text isn't all as Hemingway wrote it and that the story line has been changed. The plot follows the book but with a more typical editorial approach that allows for cuts in the interest of more fluid story telling. This makes the first part of the title a double reference, first to the selected parts of the text and secondly to the name of narrator Jack Barnes' most often frequented Paris bar.
Barnes is our narrator on stage as he was on the page. Mike Iveson, who played Klipspringer, the man who lived at Gatsby's house in Gatz, brings charm and underlying sadness to the American newspaperman whose World War I wounds left him impotent. As in the book, there are just a few subtle references to explain why the love between him and the beautiful but restless and sexually adventurous Brett Ashley goes no further than a kiss.
The narrative commentary is never allowed to become a lengthy monologue but always serves as a pathway into interactive scenes that bring nine other actors on stage. Since six of the actors play multiple roles the theater's large stage is filled to the brim with interesting other characters. The only solo players besides Iveson are Matt Tierney as the rich Jewish writer Robert Cohn and Lucy Taylor as Brett Ashley.
The entire cast gives star quality performances. Lucy Taylor embodies the lost girl vulnerability of Brett. Kate Scelsa in her main part as Frances who's been the main woman in Robert Cohn's life since his first wife left him, delivers an excrutiatingly exquisite rant over Cohn's unwillingness to marry her. Tierney's Cohn is the book's and this production's misery center, the butt of unmistakable anti-semitism and the guy who angrily resists everyone's wish to be rid of him.
Tierney and Ben Williams, whose main role is that of Hemingway-like Bill Gorton, most powerfully demonstrate the company members' enormous versatility. In addition to acting they have created a sound design that's nothing short of brilliant, hiding the audio control system that's usually at the rear of the theater behind a bar at the rear of the stage so that they could manipulate it when not performing.
Director John Collins has steered the segues between narration and interaction so that, except for a too drawn out finale, there's not a dull moment. Dance and Movement coach Katherine Profeta has ratcheted the never a dull moment element with several terrific dance numbers in which everyone on stage participates ably and energetically.
Set and costume designer David Zinn has evoked the flavor of the novel and the period without 1920s costumes and with a single but stunningly effective set, its walls ringed with shelves holding the bottles of wine and whiskey that Hemingway's expatriates manage to partake of in life threatening quantities. Two long tables and some straight chairs work wonders to shift the scene to other places: various cafes, Jake's office and bedroom, taxi and horse drawn cabs, a lake where Jake and Bill Gorton have gone fishing — and, believe it or not a truly exciting bull fight with a table converted into a fierce bull on which two horns have been mounted.
Each scene, no matter where, is enormously enriched and authenticated by the sound design that lets us hear the clink of glasses whether breaking or part of a toast, the splashing sounds of water and fish being caught during Jake and Bill Gorton's fishing trip, the pop of Robert Cohn's fists against flesh when he explodes and uses his training as a boxer at Princeton to against everyone in sight. There's also the roar of that bull being fought by the sexy matador Pedro Romero (played by ERS veteran Susie Sokol). You can hardly blame Collins for indulging himself by allowing that bullfight to go on just a bit longer than it should.
I'll conclude with what Les Gutman said at the end of the first ERS show he reviewed more than a decade ago: "It takes a talented group of people to undertake this sort of project and render it both theatrical and entertaining. Elevator Repair Service brings together a group of people who have the wherewithal, stamina, spirit and awareness to make it succeed."
Under founder and director John Collins' leadership Les's assessment still holds; in fact, more so than ever with The Select: The Sun Also Rises. I think Papa Hemingway wouldn't be unhappy with what they've done to translate his voice for the stage and if you've never read his first major novel, you'll want to extend the time spent at New York Theatre Workshop by reading it. As the Elevator actors and designers evoke Papa's story of a group of Expats drowning themselves in drink and aimless wanderings, so reading or re-reading the book will now also bring back images and sounds from Elevator Repair Service's invigorating stage version.
Links to reviews of the other two parts of theERS literary trilogy:
The Sound and the Fury
Gatz at the Public Theater and in Boston
Other ERS shows reviewed:
Highway to Tomorrow
Total Fictional Lie
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free