The Great Gatsby • Deconstructing the American Dream

Pit & Balcony Community Theatre Presents the Regional Premier of a Definitive American Classic January 24-26 & 30 - Feb. 1st

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 890   By: Robert E Martin

09th January, 2020     0

With ‘The Great Gatsby, the focus is upon the florid show of modern American life—and especially the devil's dance that goes on at the top.  What engrosses Fitzgerald is the high carnival of those who have too much money to spend, and too much time for the spending of it. Their idiotic pursuit of sensation, their almost incredible stupidity and triviality, their glittering swinishness—these are the things that go into his notebook.” - Journalist H.L. Mencken, Chicago Tribute Review of ‘The Great Gatsby’, May 1925

In many ways, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby, set in the glittering Jazz Age of the 1920s, is truly one of the definitive pieces of American literature and arguably the greatest American novel to come out of the 20th Century. 

With a poetic prose style that packs nuance and meaning into every sentence, there is not one word written within its relatively modest 218 pages that is lost upon the reader or requires revision; and the depth of its narrative is much broader than its ostensible subject of Jay Gatsby - a self-made millionaire, who passionately pursues the elusive Daisy Buchanan, the love of his life who’s companionship has eluded him.

Observed from the point-of-view of Nick Carraway, a young newcomer to Long Island who is drawn into a high-class world of obsession, greed, self-involvement, and amoral transgression, the glamour and decadent excess of this timeless tale now comes to the stage of Pit & Balcony Theatre on January 24-26th & January 30 - February 1st, in this stage adaptation by playwright Simon Levy, approved by The Fitzgerald Estate, who distills the essence of Fitzgerald’s classic novel.

For director Todd Thomas, the challenges are considerable. 

“Obviously, F. Scott Fitzgerald is in a small group of authors that writes every word intentionally and who’s prose is poetic,” reflects Thomas. “He represents the period and setting of this story with such concise clarity that you can’t read Gatsby without feeling like you’re immersed in the 1920s, so it’s daunting as a Director to take on something like this.  It’s like being presented the Bible and told to direct and do what is essentially an iconic story justice.”

Considering that The Great Gatsby has so much going on in a relatively short novel that dissects the moral ground of its characters, most of them possessing virtues that are misunderstood and vices that are un-comprehended, as a director what does Todd feel it is about this tale that makes it such an important work?

“I believe the power of Gatsby exists within this significant idea that society often presents us with a picture that we can sell ourselves out without realizing it,” reflects Todd. “I once was an executive for Mercedes Benz, and it’s easy to believe that you’re something other people aren’t, until things happen that make you realize you’re just like everybody else.”

“Now we have all this political turmoil going on in the country and larger wage gaps going on today, so Gatsby is really relevant to our modern day travails as well,” continues Thomas. “It doesn’t simply beat people up at that level, but also shows them the reverse - so audiences have an opportunity to see why it’s easy to buy into materialism and judgement and all that comes along with it.”

Indeed, one of the most compelling qualities of Jay Gatsby himself is the fact he is one of the ‘Great Believers’ - a true Romantic in the sense that his motivation is entirely focused upon winning the affections of Daisy - the woman he once loved so passionately, but who sadly doesn’t exist anymore except as an illusion that Gatsby wants to make real.  He believes you can relive the past and can fix the situation, but he can’t.

“I agree with your assessment, “ Todd states. “We move forward and do what we need to, but cannot go back to the way things were. I’ve spent a lot of time with students discussing this idea that we learn from what we do and move forward, but all of us fall into that trap - we expect something from an old friend, or expect an old girlfriend to be the same, and then we’re surprised when they are not.  I’m not even sure Gatsby even cared if he was rich - everything he did was for Daisy and winning back her affections. He was the ultimate romantic and I like the fact we don’t know how he exactly got all his money, but we do have a few hints.”

“I think at the end, when the character of Nick sees through all of this and says, ‘This is not who I am and not what I want and I need to go back to what I was - all of us have that experience. We start down a path or find ourselves in a place we created that isn’t really the place that works for us.  In that sense, this truly is an American story - frankly, it’s solely am American story.”

Regarding the theatrical translation, Thomas is pleased with the structure of the script. “I think this is a good script that sticks close to the main areas of the story.  “Anybody who knows this work thoroughly will notice a section in the middle that the playwright takes out; but all the key themes and developments are part of the play and he’s done a very good job at keeping the essence of the story there and making it possible to give the story justice. I think if you’re a big Gatsby fan this is going to be the story you expect.”

With a cast consisting of Jordan Reed as Jay Gatsby; Jeff Rogner as Nick Carraway; Danielle Katsoulos as Daisy Buchanan; Natalie Schwartz as Jordan Baker; Spencer Beyerlein as Tom Buchanan; Gio Rose-Anderson as George Wilson; Ekia Thomas as Myrtle Wilson, and Blayne Adams as Lucille McKee & Mrs. Michaelis, Thomas says auditions were strong, with five of the actors new to the P&B stage.

“All the actors have experience in community theatre around the state and in the Thumb area and Flint; and I think it’s important to have new talent featured in the show,” he reflects. “This makes it fun for me as a Director,  because you only know what you have from the audition, but you don’t know what you have to work with until you start into the production. How do I pull what I want from these different people if I don’t know them?  I have to be focused and engaged to do that with new actors and I like that.”

As for his biggest challenge with this production, Thomas references the staging. “The film versions possess a lot of visual opulence and render a realistic depiction between the richness and poorness of East & West Egg, so given the limitations of the stage, this is a challenge. What I wanted to do is create a set that communicates all of that in a fairly minimal way, so some of that ambiguity in the book comes through on the stage.  Fortunately, I have a strong creative team with Bailey Banks handling lights and Amy Spadafore working as my set designer. Amy and I connect really well in a creative way and Robin Noah is a brilliant costume designer.”

“I believe audiences will be surprised with how powerful and effective this production translates to the theatrical stage.”

The Regional Premier of ‘The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, adapted for the stage by Simon Levy, will run from January 24-26 & January 30 - February 1.  Friday & Saturday performances are at 7:30 PM and Sunday matinees are at 3:00 PM.  Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased by phoning 989.754.6587 or visiting PitandBalcontyTheatre.com

 

 

 

 

 

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