16 November 2008


Under what circumstances could a full-length reading of an 83-year-old novel be entertaining? How, indeed, could you get an audience to sit through the requisite six or eight hours straight?

Perhaps it goes without saying that you'd have to start with a damned good novel. The Elevator Repair Service theater troupe has met this requirement, choosing what many would say is the very best: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

It's a genius idea, really: in a rattletrap office, a frustrated clerk (his computer hangs every time it boots up) finds a dogeared copy of the novel in an unexpected location (a disk storage box on his desk) and begins to read. Aloud. His colleagues ignore him at first, intent on their own business--carrying on phone conversations, typing, filing. The noise of the contemporary world--car horns, the urban roar--loudens every time the door opens to admit another coworker or usher one out. Colleagues approach to get help finding a file, or ask for a favor. Still, he reads on. He pauses a moment to try his computer again. No dice, and the fellow reads on.

Before long, parallels between the office world and the novel's world emerge. The phone rings in the office, and a ringing phone is described in the novel. The colleagues begin to take on the personalities--and ultimately the roles--of various characters in the novel. Gradually, the real business of the office (whatever that is) is subsumed by the imaginary business of Fitzgerald's story. The ambient noise transforms from a contemporary urban roar to an idyllic suburban symphony of crickets and birdsong.

Gatz is a tremendous accomplishment. The externalization of the clerk's psychological absorption in his book is often humorous, and finally very moving. It goes without saying that the effort is something to admire, but the fact is that the play is also great entertainment.

Highly recommended, if you ever get a chance to see it. But we suggest you bring a cushion. Theater seats are a little hard on the bottom after so many hours.

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