We, The Audience

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Remember the last time you fell in love with a really good book?

I’m not talking about a little crush. I’m talking about the all-consuming grip of a great novel. The kind of story that begs to be finished. You find yourself, hours after beginning, burning through the pages because you simply have to find out how the story ends. While at the same time, as the pages in your right hand begin to disappear - you try and slow down, savor the words - like those of a lover who will soon leave you.

That’s the experience of watching Elevator Repair Service’s theatrical take on “The Great Gatsby” - called simply “Gatz.”

The play, on it’s simplest level, is every word of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel - read from beginning to end.

As the play begins, the incomparable actor Scott Shepherd walks into a rundown office. It’s the not too distant past but it’s a world where the typewriter still shares a desk with the computer. His computer’s giving him a little trouble so he flips open his rolodex to discover a copy of “The Great Gatsby.”

He begins to read aloud . . .

What you’re struck by are Fitzgerald’s words: his wonderful if elusive metaphors.

The journey begins with two distinct worlds: the world of Gatsby and the world of the man reading it. Then slowly, magically, the world’s begin to coincide, to echo, to overlap. You see the green light of the distant pier glowing on the set. You hear a crash in the next room of the office. Or is it in the next room of the novel? Gradually the 12 office coworkers morph into the characters of the novel, taking up their lines and actions.

As you begin assembling the connections - you discover something even more astounding: you discover the audience. You’re chuckling with someone else at Fitzgerald’s wit.

The act of reading is a solitary process. Theater, on the other hand, is a collective art. We, the audience, rather than I, the reader. In the opening chapters of “Gatz”, Elevator Repair Service makes the experience of a novel communal, theatrical. From there, they’ve got us.

The play is eight hours from start to finish. Yes, eight hours but don’t worry it’s broken into 4 acts with 2 intermissions and a 75 minute dinner break. The evening, which I’d sit through again in a heartbeat, unfolds broadly as a journey from Fitzgerald’s prose to drama to ideas. Actor Scott Shepherd, who serves as our narrator Nick Carraway, gives nothing less than a tour de force performance of restraint and elegant storytelling as he moves from simply reading, to becoming engrossed within the story, and finally to leaving the book itself behind - in one of the most shocking transitions of the play.

It’s glorious!

Give yourself an early present and spend a whole day with a great story beautifully told. “Gatz” plays this weekend only at Redcat in Downtown LA.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.