The Great ‘Gatz’ at REDCAT

Scott Shepherd as Nick Carraway in ‘Gatz’ at REDCAT (Image: Steven Gunther)

Elevator Repair Service (ERS) opened Gatz—its nearly eight-hour staging of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterwork The Great Gatsby—at REDCAT last week, bringing to an expectant Los Angeles the production that New York Times‘ theater critical Ben Brantley hailed in 2010 as the “most remarkable achievement in theater not only of this year but also of this decade.”

In the ERS production, a drab office and its workers are somehow transformed into the wealthy and well-heeled denizens of East and West Egg, Long Island.

Director John Collins and the cast of 13, which includes CalArts alum and faculty member Robert Cucuzza (Theater MFA 11), have committed to Fitzgerald’s text like few adapted film and stage productions do: Gatz is a word-for-word reading of the entire novel about the aloof millionaire Jay Gatsby, his opulent parties and his mysterious past.

In his review of the show, Los Angeles Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty writes:

There’s something seductive about the performers’ relaxed grace, the casual ease with which they move between fictional realms and the enjoyment they take in their own freedom. They might have a tongue-in-cheek air about them, but their commitment is total….

The text is king — an arrangement that is only fitting for a novel that may just be the most exquisitely written work of American literature. This isn’t to say that “Gatsby” is a perfect novel. The work is memorable less for its plot than for its swanky 1920s Long Island milieu, for its exposure of the dirty secrets of the American dream and for its cascade of miraculously poised sentences.

Gatz continues at REDCAT this week with performances Tuesday through Sunday with best availability for the midweek shows. Because of the length of Gatz—approximately 7 hours and 45 minutes, including a dinner break and two intermissions—all shows begin at either 1 or 2 pm in the afternoon.

Elevator Repair Service: Gatz
631 West 2nd St., Los Angeles
Tickets: $75 (CalArts) to $150
Runs through Dec. 9

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  1. Kameron Steele // //

    A Tale of Two Nicks:
    Just as with “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” , the 8½ hour long theatrical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel by the Royal Shakespeare company in 1980, the success “Gatz” comes from a combination an exquisitely written first-person subjective voice, and an actor who is able to dynamically carry that voice for the duration. Roger Rees as Nicolas Nickelby and Scott Shepherd as Nick Carraway have both met the greatness of the original with their layered and generous performances. Shepherd, however, does not have the representative reality of Gatsby’s world created around him the way Rees did with “Nickelby”. The “Gatz” audience, thus, experiences the world of the play primarily through the fascinating vocal clarity of Shepherd. The divide created between the reality he paints with his narrative voice and that of the low-rent office he inhabits give us the space to imagine the world of “The Great Gatsby” vividly and personally. At the same time, the epic nature of the production, a kind of anomaly in this age of Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, instantly creates a bonding among the audience members. By the end of the 8 hours, we’ve all come out a little different than we went in. We have each other, and the new “Nick” to thank for it.