The Playgoer: More Gatz

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

More Gatz

So much for my Gatz "exclusive". Alexis also made the trip to Philly.

I'm glad, though, because she gets at something I couldn't put my finger on, but did notice:

The Great Gatsby is a novel of ambition, of desire. Like Fitzgerald, [director John] Collins doesn't permit those ambitions to be achieved or those desires fulfilled. In a poignant passage describing Gatsby and Daisy out for an evening stroll, Fitzgerald writes, "He knew that when he kissed this girl and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of god. . . . Then he kissed her." But Gatz doesn't make Gatsby's mistake—it resists and delays that consummation, refusing to allow the stage action to ever entirely replace the novel Shepherd holds. Just when we might become carried away, might give ourselves over to the figures before us, a secretary enters with a stack of documents or a telephone rings. With a jolt we find ourselves transported back to the office, suddenly conscious that the tinsel and shimmer exist in our mind alone, that only a dreary workplace greets our eyes. Instead of giving us the comfort of a mimetic fantasy, ERS implicates us in a singularly imaginative act, not dissimilar to the one young Jimmy Gatz attempted when he remolded himself Jay Gatsby.
Yes, there was an admirable restraint from dramatizing/enacting everything in the novel--which is a temptation when you're including every F.Scottin' word! So Collins shows a lot of well-judged discretion.

This also gets at something else about Gatz that may be obvious to others (especially in Chicago), that it is really a very highwire act of good ol' "Readers Theatre." Where the text itself is foregrounded and the performance can alternately illustrate or comment on it. Mary Zimmerman has developed her own stylish offshoot of that, of course. There's also a San Francisco company called Word for Word that also takes an "all the words" approach to literary adaptation.

I do think future theatre historians will look back on this stretch of time and pronounce "literary adaptation" in all its forms, a major impulse in late 20th/early 21st century US theatre.

2 comments:

RLewis said...

It's so great to hear about this lit' work. Thought I'd just add Book-It Rep in Seattle, which I think brought Cider House Rules to the stage a few years back.

And of course, if you don't know the late Paul Walker, you should. I caught a version of a Dylan Thomas piece that he did with members of The Acting Company back in the early 80's on Theater Row - it still swirls in my mind. (apologies if I blew it for anyone who thought this kind of work was new. who said, "originality is lack of information"?)

Anonymous said...

Frank Galati (who did the Steppenwolf adaptation of the "The Grapes of Wrath" as well as many other works) is the godfather of literary adaptation in Chicago -- he mentored Zimmerman at Northwestern's performance studies program (which grew out of the old oral interpretation program). Just wanted to give Frank his well-deserved props.

Kerry