On Theater: After 90 years, 'Gatsby' still great

For a story that's been around for nearly 90 years, F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" has an impressive shelf life, spawning four movies, two television dramas and even an opera. Odd, considering it wasn't viewed as a success when it first came to life in 1925.

There's now even a stage version, adapted by Simon Levy, which Golden West College currently is mounting. It offers an inviting time trip into the Jazz Age of the 1920s and focuses on the rich and beautiful people, some tragically flawed, who populate Long Island's haute habitats.

Director Tom Amen has chosen what he terms a "minimalist" setting for this time-honored tale, leaving its lush trappings to the mind of the beholder and focusing, quite rightly, on the turmoil of its principals. Set designer Wally Huntoon has forgone the outward signs of the idle rich, replacing them with singular set pieces, whisked on and off stage as needed.

As seen through the eyes of a visitor, Nick Carraway (Jeremy Krasovic), the world of wealthy neighbor Jay Gatsby (Brock Joseph) is replete with lush activity and, as Fitzgerald put it, "the orgiastic future that, year by year, recedes before us." Levy brings us right into the characters' lives, passing over plot elements such as Gatsby's choosing not to attend his own parties.

Jealousy bubbles over as Gatsby yearns for the hauntingly beautiful Daisy (Mikayla Richards), a onetime lover who has learned that absence makes the heart grow fonder — for someone else. That someone is, unfortunately, the boorish dolt Tom Buchanan (Jack Clark), the designated party pooper of Fitzgerald's classic. Nick's mission is helping to reunite the lost lovers, while engaging of a romance of his own with an amateur golfer (Michelle Terrill), who may owe her success on the links to subterfuge.

Krasovic opens the show as both philosophical narrator and a low-key Nick who gains in strength and articulation as events progress. Joseph's Gatsby is a smooth specimen of wealth and influence whose Achilles heel is his fervent yearning to rekindle his romance with Daisy. This weakness is screened by an attitude of privilege that includes referring to his friends as "old sport," much to the displeasure of some, Tom Buchanan in particular.

Richards is an eye-catching actress whose physical allure is matched by an almost unusual dramatic depth. As her flapper buddy, Terrill engages in frisky comedic shenanigans, save for the moments when her alleged golfing chicanery is introduced.

Clark projects the rotten apple in this mixture with force and skill, his normal speaking voice about an octave too high and his manner instantly off-putting. His mistress, Myrtle (Saffron Brauer), and her cloddish mechanic husband (Casey Wiggins) provide a subplot drawn from the "common people," which grows in intensity and importance during the second act.

That second act is a swift turnaround from the first, skipping with little transition from feigned cocktail party manners to sharp conflict and dramatic turmoil. The actors are able to pull it off skillfully, however.

"The Great Gatsby" probably is Fitzgerald's magnum opus, though at his death in 1940 the author considered it a failure. Now nearly a century old, the story receives a strong and immediate rendition at Golden West College.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "The Great Gatsby"

Where: Golden West College Mainstage Theater, Huntington Beach

When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $15 general admission, $13 students and seniors

Information: (714) 895-8150 or http://www.gwctheater.comhttp://www.gwctheater.com

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