This marathon take on The Great Gatsby is a “work of singular imagination and intelligence,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. To put it mildly, a six-hour start-to-finish reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic Jazz Age novel is a very big risk. But the theater troupe Elevator Repair Service rises to the challenge with this daring show, which opens on “Nick,” an office worker who finds a dog-eared copy of Fitzgerald’s book while waiting for help from tech support. Bored, Nick begins reading aloud, and as his fellow drones arrive at the office, they gradually stand in for the novel’s characters and start carrying their dialogue. If you’ve ever had “the feeling of living with a novel that so absorbs you that you start to imagine everyone around you as a character in it,” you’ll know where Nick is coming from.
Director John Collins has staged a truly “spellbinding” theatrical event that takes on “our most treasured illusions, literary and otherwise,” said Scott Brown in New York. Attempts to dramatize Gatsby have historically come up short, but this inventive staging breaks the pattern. The actors truly work wonders, especially Scott Shepherd, who, as Nick, has committed all 47,000 words of Gatsby to memory and delivers them in a nuanced reading that seldom falters. As the office boss, Jim Fletcher presents a “less beatific” version of Jay Gatsby than we’re used to, but as we watch him mimic the book’s key scenes within the confines of this run-down office set (the famous “light across the bay” becomes an LED on a smoke alarm), we’re utterly convinced.
“If any show is going to split audiences this season, it’s this one,” said Elisabeth Vincentelli in the New York Post. “At times, Gatz casts such a strong spell that it feels as if the world outside has ceased to exist.” But for all its brilliance, the show also contains some “deadly boring stretches.” Despite the ensemble’s heroic efforts to hold our attention, “hearing a book read aloud wears really thin.”