elevator repair service: every damn word Sep 22, 2007

by Bret

It sounds like a stunt -- and it is, but you soon join the spirit of it. You also fall out of it occasionally, but Gatz cajoles you back in with a sly gesture or a moment when Fitzgerald's novel is translated into surprising sideways theatricality. A few moments feel forced or jokey -- when a bit of razzle-dazzle seems to happen out of nervousness on the part of the actors or director -- but strikingly few. The vast majority of six hours plus unfolds as naturally and organically as a flower. Scott Shepherd, who narrates as Nick, has a relaxed, understated delivery that suits the rhythms of Fitzgerald's elegant and witty prose, and the whole cast is in tune with what is, more than anything else, a triumph of stylistic tone. The sound design (an absolutely crucial element of this production) is astounding. What I enjoyed most of the narrative was actually not the central story, but minor incidents and throwaway bits that, due to Elevator Repair Service's approach, popped out vividly.

However, anyone expecting wild experimental theater will be surprised and possibly disappointed; though it's presented in the context of a dingy underground office and filtered through the lives of the various workers, this is not a parody, and not a project that uses a text as a leaping-off point to create something other. This is a sincere presentation of The Great Gatsby -- and is a vastly superior interpretation than Seattle Rep's recent travesty. By the end, though, it's hard not to have some doubts about just how necessary it was to recite the entire book; Fitzgerald really flogs his themes in that last chapter, and the refusal to edit a single word smacks of preciousness. This doesn't outweigh the show's many pleasures and illuminating moments, but the conclusion of this gesture towards purity or faithfulness feels more like a feat of endurance than art, one that left me admiring but not moved.

-- Bret Fetzer