If you’ve read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic The Great Gatsby, chances are it was foisted upon you in high school and you probably spent more time searching for symbolism (yellow = money, blue = illusion, and so on) than appreciating the poetry of passages like: ”The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.” That’s what makes the Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz, now playing at Off Broadway’s Public Theater, such an awesome theatrical experience: It gives you the chance to hear The Great Gatsby — word for word, down to narrator Nick Carraway’s every last ”I said” — anew and to completely lose yourself in Fitzgerald’s gin-soaked, jazz-age New York story.
Our onstage narrator is a generic blue-shirt, khaki-pants office worker (Scott Shepherd) who — when his ancient computer won’t boot up — simply starts reading Gatsby aloud for want of something better to do. And though he trips over words (hey, I’d mispronounce Buccleuch too) and makes awkward high-pitched attempts at female voices (”I’m p-paralyzed with happiness,” he says as Southern belle Daisy Buchanan), he’s not so much performing as simply reading. For a few minutes, everyday activity drones on — co-workers drifting in and out, doing … something. (We never learn what kind of business it is. Then again, we never really learn what kind of business Jay Gatsby is in, either.) Round about page 12, his fellow employees join in — taking on the roles of, among others, the arrogant, aggressive Tom Buchanan (Gary Wilmes), Tom’s money-voiced wife, Daisy (Victoria Vazquez), ”jaunty” Jordan (Susie Sokol), Gatsby (Jim Fletcher, perfectly poker-faced), and Gatsby’s dad, Henry (Ross Fletcher, Jim’s real-life dad). Shepherd, of course, becomes a stand-in for Nick, transplanted Midwesterner, bond salesman, and the novel’s one-man Greek chorus. And by the end, he is giving a performance; you’ll notice he’s reading without book in hand.
The Great Gatsby may be less than 200 pages, but this production demands a hefty time investment — eight hours total (which includes two intermissions and a dinner break) — not to mention a pretty strong attention span. But trust us: Even if you know the plot, after the first break you’ll find yourself sucked into Nick and Jordan’s burgeoning romance; throughout dinner you’ll be itching to get back to Gatsby and Daisy; and after the second intermission you’ll be anxiously awaiting the inevitable unhappy ending. It’s not unlike spending the day on the sofa curled up with a really, really good book. A
(Tickets: publictheater.org or 212-967-7555)