Eight hours of power: Groundbreaking Gatz comes straight from NYC to stun Perth

Entering Perth’s Octagon Theatre on Friday night, I saw a warning: “contains cigarette smoke, open flames and use of firearms.”

Well, that’s the least I expect, I thought.

Scott Shepherd as Nick Carraway in Gatz.
Scott Shepherd as Nick Carraway in Gatz.

Perth Festival has brought New York Theatre Company Elevator Repair Service to Perth for the first time to perform critically acclaimed and wildly popular Gatz; to me, far and away the most exciting page in a jam-packed 2019 program.

This epic word-for-word enactment of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby has toured the world to sold-out houses for the past 13 years; in 2010, the New York Times hailed it “the most remarkable achievement in theatre not only of this year, but also of this decade”.

Perth Festival artistic director Wendy Martin says it’s the greatest piece of theatre she has ever seen and she has worked tirelessly to bring it to Australia for the second time, the first time having been to the Sydney Opera House.

Coming to Perth direct from another season in New York, the production opens with a worker in a shabby 1980s office casually picking up a copy of The Great Gatsby, and starting to read it aloud at his desk.

And he just can’t put it down.

Click to read the rest of this review on WAtoday.

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The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1926)

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I decided I must re-read this in preparation for the film.

The tatty paperback is covered in pen underlining from my first, compulsory high school reading, and I wondered how much of my love would remain when reading through older and – possibly – more critical eyes.

Nick Carraway moves to Long Island in the 1920s and is drawn into a glamorous, seedy world lit up by his neighbour, Jay Gatsby. No-one knows much about Gatsby and they delight in making up sinister stories; but it turns out Gatsby’s secrets are very close to home.

It’s my habit to take a photo of passages I like, to save writing them all down. I wasn’t halfway through this by the time I had a couple of dozen photographs. The pen marks from the first reading showed I’d felt similarly back then.

Fitzgerald’s writing makes every line seems enchanted. When Carraway finds something lovely, you feel his wonder, and when he describes the dreadful you feel his surges of disgust.

There was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life … No – Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and shortwinded elations of men.

There is plenty of Fitzgerald’s dignified and deft humour in this tale – shown to best effect in his renderings of Gatsby’s drunken party guests and hangers-on.

To the Ministry, shooting zombies a few feet away, it must have seemed as though I weren’t reading at all, but just sitting there, alternately giggling at and taking photos of a stationary object.

A small, flat-nosed Jew raised his large head and regarded me with two fine growths of hair which luxuriated in either nostril. After a moment I discovered his tiny eyes in the half-darkness.

I don’t doubt that the beauty and ugliness of it all, not to mention Gatsby’s tortured soul, will be rendered exquisitely on film, but I wonder how the fun poked at peripheral characters, his “pale, dangling individuals” will fare.

A pause. Then, taking a long breath and straightening his shoulders, he remarked in a determined voice:  ‘Wonder’ff tell me where there’s a gas’line station?

At least a dozen men, some of them a little better off than he was, explained to him that car and wheel were no longer joined by any physical bond.

‘Back out,’ he suggested after a moment. ‘Put her in reverse.’

‘But the wheel’s off!’

He hesitated.

‘No harm in trying,’ he said.

My mate Sturdy dislikes this book. She says there’s no-one to love here, and she’s right.

Oddly enough, soon after this conversation, another friend asked me whether she was supposed to find Daisy loveable, because she couldn’t. I replied that she’d hit the nail on the head: Daisy doesn’t “gleam like silver” and that’s the lightbulb moment.

Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.

For those also interested in the “likeability” problem, I direct you to something showed to me recently: the take of writers including Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen on the subject.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/05/would-you-want-to-be-friends-with-humbert-humbert-a-forum-on-likeability.html

Likeable or not, The Great Gatsby is spine-tingling. I hang on the words, they give me goosebumps. I am breaking my neck to get into that cinema.

The Beautiful and Damned (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1922)

I suggested this book for my new book club. Actually, in all fairness, my new book club essentially chose this book for themselves, after I offered them a choice between something modern or something classic. I can’t quite remember what the alternatives were, but the point is, it’s their fault I chose this book.

And I was the only one masochistic enough to end up reading it.

It’s not that I don’t love haunting, moody, elegant writing with a touch of dry humour. I do, I swear I do and that’s why I loved The Great Gatsby.

Hell, we all loved The Great Gatsby — those of us with souls, anyway but though this is unquestionably Fitzgerald’s excellent writing, with all the qualities listed above, there was something about Gatsby’s story that made it immortal, and that didn’t happen here.

I have the closing lines of The Great Gatsby written down in a notebook somewhere, and they still make me shiver a little inside, and I thought The Beautiful and the Damned was a sure bet.

I knew it wouldn’t be a barrel of laughs, but I thought like Gatsby it would have that lift, that loveliness that turns sadness into something beautiful.

It turns out sometimes the sad and sordid is just… well, sad and sordid and ugly. Unclean, as Gloria herself would say.

I’m half disappointed just because the book sounds so cool. I mean, The Beautiful and the Damned is sexy as all get-out as far as titles go, and it definitely fits. I have never met characters quite so beautiful or quite so damned.

But try as I might to read something more into it, it really does seem to eulogise, as the back cover so nicely puts it, “the vortex of that decade-long jazz party which ended in the cold dawn of the Depression,” that the Fitzgeralds were a part of.

I’m willing to be proven wrong, if there are any nerds out there who can muster up a meaning out of all the stuff about how Beauty is only allowed to remain in that society for 15 years.

And it’s fine for a book to be autobiographical, and it’s fine for it to have a nasty ending.

It’s just that it should have some redeeming awesomeness, and honestly, this book just made me feel like crap whenever I picked it up.

It wasn’t a boring or slow read. It was still a decent read. But I wouldn’t really recommend it… unless you’re a glutton for punishment, like me.