From Bill's Desk
When F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was first published in 1925, it was not an overnight sensation. Mark Twain once described a classic as “a book which people praise and don’t read,” and while this was true of Gatsby for years, the lasting success of Fitzgerald’s novel has proven him wrong. Indeed, is there a college student today who hasn’t read it, even if one’s memory may be limited to a reference to a green light at the end of someone’s dock? The Great Gatsby still continues to sell thousands of copies each year, and clocked in at number 15 on PBS’ Great American Read list of America’s Favorite Books. The Washington Post went as far as to call it “the American masterwork, the finest work of fiction by any of this country’s writers.” You might think that you can skip the book and know all you need to know after seeing the 2013 film version with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role—or if you’re old enough (as I am), the 1974 version starring Robert Redford.
But none of the film adaptations can replace the experience of reading the novel itself, or of witnessing Gatz, Elevator Repair Service’s re-creation of the book. The result is a work of unique, powerful, and spellbinding theatrical imagination, which treats the text almost as scripture. Here is a production that redefines the relationship between play and audience in a way that is sui generis. A man (Scott Shepherd, who will return to his original role as Nick Carraway) walks into a shabby office, picks up a battered paperback copy of The Great Gatsby, begins to read it aloud to himself, and suddenly we’re off on a six-hour journey of total immersion into Fitzgerald’s fictional universe. Gradually, Shepherd’s twelve office colleagues join him and begin to read the novel themselves. Their interpretations evolve into becoming the various characters—they no longer need the book. By the end, Shepherd has become Nick, and in a sense, so have you, the viewer. But be warned: this is not Fitzgerald-lite for dummies—it’s every word, every single word—and no words except the author’s (and the chapter headings). At six hours long, a certain degree of stamina is required (although we do give you a dinner break!).
It’s hard to convey the impact Gatz has, but the word I like to use is hypnotic. You think to yourself at first, “This conceit can never work.” It’s an idea both radical and simple, but work it does. No matter how many times you’ve read the novel or how well you think you know it, Gatz will make you hear things you never had before. You find yourself forgetting it’s a book altogether. The director, John Collins, doesn’t like to compare the experience of seeing his Elevator Repair Service production with that of reading the book—they are two distinct experiences, and there is a feeling of immediacy that the performance delivers. And while we all think we know what The Great Gatsby is about—self-invention, self-deception, social class, marriage, adultery, friendship, money, the power of dreams, the mystique of the romantic quest — you are left free to add your own thoughts to the list.
When Gatz opened in New York City at The Public Theatre in 2010, it turned into a phenomenon, and the entire run sold out in a matter of days. You couldn’t get a ticket, the critics outdid each other in reaching for superlatives, and it wound up being the theatrical event of the New York season. In fact, Ben Brantley of The New York Times declared it to be “the most remarkable achievement in theater not only of  but also of this decade.” It is now eight years since McCarter first presented the show in the Berlind Theatre in December 2011, and we are well into the century’s second decade. But Gatz remains a seminal theatrical event people are still talking about, so here is a second chance to experience it for yourself, with its original cast.