(Review by Tulis McCall)
The star of this show is, of course, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is a verbal symphony, and were Scott Shepherd the only person on the stage for the entire 6 hours and 15 minutes of this production, I would be well satisfied indeed. Shepherd is an entrancing performer who makes every move look so easy you know he has spent hours tweaking it.
Gatz is the story of Nick Caraway (Scott Shepherd), from Minnesota, who moves to New York in 1922 to work in the bond business. He rents a house in West Egg on Long Island’s north shore, which is – what a surprise – just next door to East Egg. Turns out that with the exception of the estate next to which Caraway lives, West Egg is the poor relation of East Egg. And East Egg is where his distant cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Victoria Vazquez), lives with her filthy rich husband (Gary Wilmes) and is a sort of permanent host to Jordan Baker (Suzie Sokol). When Nick pays a call on his cousin he learns that they know of his neighbor, Gatsby (Jim Fletcher). This prompts Nick into boldness. His neighbor throws extravagant parties each weekend, and Nick wants to be invited.
Just about that time he gets an invitation from Gatsby, which is when the story really begins. It turns out that Gatsby and Daisy were lovers in the not too recent past, and each still carries a torch for the other. That being the case, a meeting is arranged at Nick’s humble home and the co-mingling of destinies plays out. It is not an easy story to behold, it is layered and complicated and tragic - but it is thrilling to hear.
Choosing a book with so much first person narration is a monumental undertaking. In this case John Collins has set the story in a dingy office that nearly sucks the air out of the theatre. It is grey on grey on industrial shelving on fluorescent lights. The chairs are mismatched and beat up. The one computer in the office will not boot up, even after the requisite shut down and counting to 10. The one typewriter is on its last leg. Into this Purgatory comes Nick. It is his computer that will not boot up, and when he opens the file that should contain his floppy disk – one of the real floppies - for this situation, he find an old copy of Gatsby instead. While he waits for the IT guy, he starts reading the book out loud. Slowly the office workers are drawn in, and soon we are not in Kansas any more.
The combination Shepherd and Fitzgerald cannot be beat. So good a combination is it that the other performances lose their luster in comparison. I get that this is supposed to be a sort of fantasy where office workers assume the roles of the characters in the story, and because the office workers are awkward, the said assumption will take a bit of adjusting. In other words, we want to see that duality of characters assuming other personalities – which we see with Shepherd and a few of the other actors. But where we don’t see this is with the main characters – Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan. These three performances are so colorless and stiff that one might think they never read the book. The combination of them is a serious weight on this production.
What pulls us along is Shepherd and his love affair with The Great Gatsby. We follow him gladly as he leaves his life and free-falls into the drama and passion of a love story on Long Island. Shepherd is aided admirably by the supporting cast who make the transition between the two worlds of office and Fitzgerald-land without a hitch: Gary Wilmes, Kate Scelsa, Frank Boyd, Laurena Allen, Annie McNamara, Vin Knight, Ben Williams and Mike Iveson.
In the end it is a lot of sitting and listening, which is something we New Yorkers don’t do much. For that alone it is a great exercise. And then there is Shepherd, who is worth the price of admission, and without whom this production would be little more than l-o-n-g.
The press reviews review below are from the show's 2010 run, at the Public's Martinson Hall
"Work of singular imagination and intelligence."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"It's as maddeningly tedious as it is brilliant. By the end, my mind was as numb as my butt."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Narration and action coalesce into as powerful a piece of stagecraft as you may ever see."
Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg
"Fantastic staging of the great American novel. "
David Sheward for Back Stage
"Its hold comes and goes, and, nearing the end, it seems to slide away rather than reach an emotional crescendo."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Totally absorbing and thoroughly remarkable production."
Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey