Monday, May 18, 2009

Review: Gatz

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Gatz, as in James Gatz, as in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This particular incarnation of Gatz is a six and a half hour production by New York company Elevator Repair Service (apparently named for the occupation artistic director John Collins was predicted to fulfill after a high school aptitude test). It is not an adaption of the novel, it IS the novel, read in full by the company within the backdrop of a musty office complete with filing cabinets and boxes of paper no one ever reads. At first, when performer Scott Sheperd discovers the novel on his desk and begins to read from it, the world of this office still exists; his co workers mill about throwing letters in the bin or reading on the couch; which is totally absorbing and exhilarating. But gradually, his co workers transform into the characters from the novel forming relationships and positions that correspond to the text then finally speaking lines from it as if they were their own. The world of the office becomes the world of Gatsby, or rather the narrator of the novel Nick Carraway.

It is at this point, about an hour into the piece, that it all starts to go wrong. As soon as the staged reality of the office is subsumed by the relationships of the novel, Gatz becomes a plain adaption of the novel, acted out and spoken with little use of the environment. It is then that the performance becomes increasingly (… and increasingly) more boring. Any interest is generated by the beautiful text, its astute observations and characteristations, not by the performance of it. Which begs the question: why bother, why not just read it?

I’m glad I did see it performed if only because I probably never would have read the book on my own accord. I enjoyed the wryness in the writing, the mythic proportions of Gatsby next to the ordinary nervousness of narrator Carraway, but this has nothing to do with Elevator Repair Service or even Scott Sheperd's measured reading of the work, it was F. Scott Fitzgerald I admired after the performance, the writing and not the theatre.

This really pissed me off. It added up to a work being staged and not interpreted, which is Simon’s constant gripe about text based work in Sydney. In this situation nobody comes out untouched, the writing loses something essential and the creatives attached to it seem dull or uninterested in the work. Although The Hayloft Project’s 3xSisters down in Melbourne is getting insanely mixed reviews, from the sound of it at least it tried to DO something. I rather get something horribly wrong than do nothing at all.

Mark

5 comments:

jenni said...

Is it maybe being interpreted but in a subtler way? In putting it on the stage and speaking it aloud we are left to the mercy of the intonation, stresses of the person reading it in a completely different medium than it was intended. The environment they are in and you are in (visual and sounds) will shape your interpretation of the words and what you get from it. In this instance the work is not about the text but your interaction with the piece itself and even what the monotony of having the piece read does for you. It reminds me of the impulse and grid stuff we did because it's kind of like what happens when you get to the point beyond boredom. As you say though, in this case nothing great may happen as a result of this so it kind of failed. But all that epic 7 hour-ish theatre seems to put it at bit on the audience relationship to what is happening rather than the piece itself. In saying all this though I am absolutely talking out of someone else's arse (not mine, that seems a bit too vulgar) because I haven't even seen Gatz. Just thought I'd contribute :)

T.J. said...

Better the emphasis is on the characters than the environment. The actors performed it: much better that they did than milled around in the rear. And if they hadn't performed it, there would be no play. No characters, no drama, no love story, no fear. The actors brought a lot to the lines that they spoke. In every play, that's the case. The interest is in the text as the actors perform it. Not in the set.

The Perf said...

TJ

I think perhaps you mistook my interest in the environment of the office. It was not, as you say, in the set, but in the theatrical reality of the office, the power dynamics of the workers there and the choreography of the everyday. I thought initially that these almost incidental parallels with the text were gorgeous and illuminating. But as the performers became the characters from the play completely, the lines they spoke rang false and Gatz essentially became an audio book or staged reading, painfully faithful to the text. Beautifully written sure, but not interestingly performed. It's a pity, because I saw such potential in the first quarter.

Mark

Alison Croggon said...

Totally with you, Mark. As well as 3xSisters and the conversations it provoked, which for all the difficulties I had with it is a far better work than this, I couldn't help thinking of Daniel Schlusser's productions of classic texts down here, which as an exploration is so much more radical, thoughtful and challenging in its thinking about theatre. And language. And performance...

Nathan said...

Yeah, I agree Mark. For the first section I was completely in awe of the interaction of the two worlds - Fitzgerald's and ERS's. The struggle to co-exist between the 1925 novel and the present-moment theatre had me sitting there bewitched by some strange stagecraft. Halfway through the second section though, I felt ashamed of these thoughts. By pulling the show back to a bland staged reading of the book, they had me feeling completely naive because I had initially found it so stimulating.
Disappointing. But I don't know, I'd like to think that there's something in there that nearly got brought out, that would have been amazing. I guess I'll keep looking for it.