Monday, May 18, 2009
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.