Dispatch from New York: Yes, the Public Theater’s ‘Gatz’ is really six hours long
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There are no surviving recordings of F. Scott Fitzgerald reading any portion of his masterpiece, “The Great Gatsby,” but if Fitzgerald ever did read aloud from the 1925 novel, it was probably nothing like “Gatz,” an 8-hour theatrical experience that opened at New York’s Public Theater this week. The cast performs every single word in the book.
Nonetheless, the cumulative effect of this production, developed and performed by the theater ensemble that calls itself Elevator Repair Service, is like hearing an author read his own work aloud. It’s not better -- or more “true” -- than reading Fitzgerald’s words on the page, but it is somehow more memorable.
(Angelenos who enjoyed ERS’ production of William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” at REDCAT two years ago should immediately start trying to persuade CalArts to bring ‘Gatz’ to L.A., or begin searching for tickets online to the sold-out run at the Public. Even before opening, requests for double the $125 face value of tickets started appearing on Craigslist.)
Whereas ERS used the rhythm of Faulkner’s prose (and repetition of fictional devises like “Delcie said”) to delineate characters, here Collins and his cast treat the descriptive sections of the text as recitative, teeing up Fitzgerald’s operatic dialogue and letting it soar. And in a technique not unlike the one director Gordon Edelstein uses in “The Glass Menagerie” running at the Taper, some of ‘Gatsby’ narrator Nick Carraway’s inner monologues appear to be typed up by actor Scott Shepard as if he’s writing the book at a later date.
Some will no doubt find “Gatz” to be little more than a long, ironic radio play. For this theatergoer, though, “Gatz” flew by. (At this point I should state that due to the show’s odd schedule, and an express train that wasn’t, I missed a few minutes of “Gatz’s’ 6-hour-plus running time -- there are two 15-minute breaks and an hour dinner break -- but I don’t think this accounted for its briskness.)
There will be much discussion about “Gatz” in the weeks ahead—whether ERS’ show counts as “theater,” whether audiences are actually sticking around for the full show (most did at the performance I attended, applauding themselves at the curtain call). The Times’ Charles McNulty will shed more light on the production when he writes about it later this fall. Until then, theatergoers should know that “Gatz” is one of the major theater events of the season. It’s not extending past Nov. 28 and if you want to catch it, you’d better act now.
--James C. Taylor