Review by Tulis McCall
(12 Sep 2011)
The normally excellent Elevator Repair Service does not go all the way to the top floor with this production.
Based on Hemingway’s novel, this is the story of a few Thirty-Somethings who drink their way through most of their waking hours and talk about the work they do without ever doing it. There is a brief few moments where Jake Barnes (Mike Iveson) types out an article in his office, but that’s it. In other words we are watching self absorbed dilettantes. These happen to be pretty good dilettantes to watch because for the most part these are some fine actors – but even so, watching people so self absorbed needs some zip to keep it interesting.
To begin with Iveson seems overwhelmed by this material. Speaking without contractions seems alien to him, and he comes across as a mild mannered milk toast. Because he is on stage nearly the entire time, the pace of this drama hums along like an old motor car. In addition his mike was either off or not turned up – which brings us to the subject of sound. This is normally one element at which ERS succeeds, and the special effects here are a wonder. The actors, however, suffer terribly. Perhaps if the sound technicians were not on stage but up in the back (there is someone on a sound board at the back of the house, but it does not help) they could hear that the sound levels for the actors are wildly out of balance. As Francis, Kate Scelsa is so loud she is nearly unintelligible. And Iveson can barely be heard when he is speaking with no competition. When the carnival starts thrumming he may as well not speak at all.
We follow these sad aimless people as they drink themselves from one end of Paris to another and then to Spain where they switch to riojas and guzzle on. The center of the storm is Brett Ashley (Lucy Taylor) who is vital and manic. She falls in and out of love the way some women shop for shoes. The next one is always calling to her, even though she professes her love for Jake over and over again. Robert Cohn (Matt Tierny, also on the sound board) is besotted with Brett to the point of self-annihilation. Cohn is also a Jew and an outcast because he is a man of moderation, with the exception of his pursuit of Brett, surrounded by WWI vets for whom excess proves that they are still alive. Bill Gorton (Ben Williams, the second main sound operator) is a man’s man who swaggers through life as though it were a Wild West saloon. These are the central characters, and around them swirl a marvelous concoction of others characters – all beautifully executed by this most excellent cast who takes busing glasses to an Olympic level. This is extraordinary ensemble work.
But because our foursome are all sad and weary, the story takes on a sad and weary and slightly demented tone. There comes a point where you want to pull a Cher move; slap them each in the face and yell, “Get Over It!!!”
In this age of a sour economy and unemployment nearing 10%, it is a little difficult to watch intelligent, healthy people gazing at their navels and wondering why life isn’t treating them better.
While watching the bullfight scene I realized I cared more about the bull than any of the characters surrounding him. Maybe that is what Hemingway intended all along.
What the popular press said...
"A lively riff on Hemingway’s first and greatest novel. ... But... it never entirely wraps its mind around the style and essence of the book that inspired it."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Determined to muster an anesthetized listlessness."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Unlike that show (Gatz), ...'this' feels like a real theatrical experience and less like a glorified book on tape."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Exciting theatricalization of a great American work of fiction.
David Sheward for Back Stage
"The material is static and repetitive, and, with the dubious casting, thoroughly uninvolving."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Silly segments sporadically jar against the sincere nature of much of the performance... Fortunately for viewers, these cartoonish excesses do not overwhelm the production."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom New Jersey
External links to full reviews from popular press...