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Review - Gatz: Every. Single. Word.

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When asked how she kept her voice strong and healthy week after week while starring on Broadway, Ethel Merman famously quipped, "You have to live like a f***ing nun!" If that's the case then I suppose Scott Shepherd should be up for sainthood any day now. In Gatz, the Elevator Repair Service's cover-to-cover, word-for-word staging of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Shepherd reads the narrating role of Nick Carraway, which I'm guessing is roughly 75% of the text in this theatre piece which, at the performance I attended, began at 3pm and let out around 11:20, allowing for two fifteen minute intermissions and an hour and fifteen minute dinner break.

But don't expect a lavish 1920's period spectacle when you take your, thankfully, comfortable seat at the Public. Director John Collins places us in a rather shoddy-looking office of some nondescript company, which, by the look of the equipment used in Louisa Thompson's set and the style of Colleen Werthmann's costumes, seems to put the piece somewhere in the late 1980s. (Don't be confused by the fellow with a laptop sitting at a desk to the extreme left. That's sound designer Ben Williams doing an excellent job with the audio details.) There's a suggestion that the character Shepherd plays is, like Nick, a bond salesman, which would explain the decade placement, but the picture on stage is definitely not one of Wall Street high finance.

No words are uttered except Fitzgerald's so the opening minutes, where Shepherd is having trouble logging on to his computer, are done silently. After unsuccessfully futzing around for a bit, he happens upon a paperback, chronicling the summer former Yalie and Great War veteran Carraway spent out on Long Island near his married cousin Daisy and next door to the wealthy and mysterious Gatsby. The others in the office go about their business, not seeming to notice as he begins reading aloud. When Fitzgerald offers dialogue, they start assuming roles but say their lines as if they were a part of the normal workday conversation. After the first two hours it starts becoming evident that, in the mind of Shepherd's character, his cohorts are actually becoming Gatsby (a deep-voiced and awkwardly thuggish Jim Fletcher), Daisy (a vivacious Victoria Vazquez), her husband Tom (Gary Wilmes), his mistress Myrtle (Laurena Allan), et. al. and by the evening's end the fellow played by Shepherd has totally immersed himself into the world of the book.

Andy Kaufman was known to "punish" unruly audiences by reading from The Great Gatsby until the last disgruntled customer walked out, but those who grow excited at the very idea of hearing the entire novel presented in this manner will most likely not be disappointed. Collins and company do a fine job. But if your eyes glaze over at the thought of attending such a performance, I'd say an actual viewing is unlikely to win you over. Realism is taken to the point where Shepherd's reading of the text is done in a plain, unadornEd Manner, save for the final half-hour when he seems to have become Nick Carraway. Likewise his co-workers, appropriately, speak their lines simply rather than giving professional acting performances. This would be less of a problem if the piece was done in, say, a more manageable three hours, but Gatz does not add enough to The Great Gatsby to sustain interest for the full length of Fitzgerald's book. While certainly an adventurous and interesting idea, admirable in its execution, Gatz tends to come off more as a fancy parlor trick than satisfying theatre.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Jim Fletcher and Scott Shepherd; Bottom: Scott Shepherd and Victoria Vazquez.

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