03 May 2012

Seeing Gatz

Sorry for the unexpected absence the past couple of days. There's no particular reason for it; I guess just going away, and then adjusting to being back, threw me off schedule. So, do you want to hear about the epic play I saw in New York? I hope so, because that's what this post is about.

To refresh your memory, I saw Elevator Repair Service's production of Gatz at the Public Theater. The building that's home to the Public, on Lafayette Street near Cooper Union, is over 150 years and originally housed the New York Public Library. It's a beautiful old building, and the interior public spaces are currently being renovated, which can be slightly confusing, but the staff was gracious and helpful.

Because of the extreme running time, the show began at 3 pm. The story opens with people working in a dreary, cruddy-looking office. One employee arrives and finds he can't start up his computer (which is ancient). Bored and unable to work, he rummages around his desk and comes up with a copy of The Great Gatsby, which he begins to read aloud. This brings some odd looks from his coworkers, but he ignores them and continues. At one point he appears to go home for the day, return the next morning, and resume his reading (by that point, his computer has been taken away by an IT tech).

Gradually, his office mates become the other characters in the story, and by the time our narrator (he's reading the part of Nick Carraway, who tells the story in the book) had reached the end of chapter 3, two hours had passed, and it was time for the first intermission. I got up and stretched my legs, and stood around waiting for those in my row who had gone to use the restroom to return.

Act 2 ran about an hour and 15 minutes, after which there was a 90-minute dinner break. I used that time to walk a few blocks north to Dos Toros, a burrito place on Fourth Avenue just below Union Square. I had an enormous burrito and a $2 can of Tecate, and walked off my dinner a little before starting back. I grabbed an oatmeal raisin cookie from the concession stand before heading back into the theater. The show resumed promptly at 8 pm, with the final intermission at 9:30. Act 4 ran from 9:45 until around 11:10 pm. It took me only about 15 minutes to walk back to my hotel, just off Houston Street.

I was slightly terrified that I might fall asleep after eating, but the performance was completely engrossing. It really didn't feel like I had been sitting for over six hours, and it also didn't seem possible that the cast had covered the entire text of The Great Gatsby in that time. F. Scott Fitzgerald certainly didn't write Gatsby with the stage in mind, and I'm sure he never imagined anyone would want to perform his work on stage, but it's a brilliant idea that is flawlessly executed, making for a unique and memorable theater experience.

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