Regional Reviews: New Jersey
The Select (The Sun Also Rises) Brings Hemingway
Also see Bob's review of Man of La Mancha
As in its earlier stage adaptations of The Great Gatsbythe acclaimed Gazand The Sound and the Fury, all of the words spoken on stage are taken verbatim from the pages of the novel. However, make no mistake about it, The Select ... is in no manner a staged reading. It is a fully staged theatrical memoir in the form of a reverie.
The Hemingway novel chronicles the hard partying lives of "lost generation" intellectual and artistic expatriate Americans living in Paris in the 1920s. The ex-pat cadre here, based on Hemingway's own social circle, has made a bar-café by the name of Café Select their home base.
Director-co-author John Collins (the authorship credit is "created and performed by Elevator Repair Service") informs us that the title refers both to this setting and the process of "cutting and selecting different parts of the novel to make our show" rather than religiously "sticking to (all) the author's words" as in the two previous adaptations.
The narrator is Jake Barnes, a war wounded correspondent-fledgling novelist. The object of his reverie is Lady Brett Ashley and a period of several months ending in a fateful two-week vacation in Spain.
Brett was a nurse in the hospital where Jake was treated for his war injury. Jake tells a prostitute that he cannot be with her because of his injury. Jake and Brett have remained hopelessly in love since the war, but cannot marry because Brett, whom it seems that every man finds irresistible, has a need for sex which makes it impossible for her to ever be faithful to him. Brett had married Lord Ashley, whom she did not love, during the war, after her true love had been killed establishing a pattern of entering marriage even while unable to fall in love.
Brett has twice been married to men whom she hasn't loved. Throughout the period covered on stage she is engaged to the wealthy Mike Campbell. She also has an affair with Jake's friend Robert Cohn, a published young novelist who took up boxing and became middleweight boxing champion at Princeton to compensate for the sting of anti-Semitism which he first encountered there, and she is pursued by a close buddy of Jake's, Bill Gorton. These are but a few of a plethora of colorful and provocative individuals in and around Jake's circle and on their vacation in Spain.
The first act is essentially a seventy-five minute prologue that could be titled "The Months Before" that acquaints us with Jake and his companions, and their lives and interrelationships. The 105-minute second act takes us with them on a colorful and turbulent vacation to SpainBurgette, Madrid, and primarily Pamplona for the "Fiesta" of Saint Fermin and the running of the bulls.
There is but one large, single setting depicting a large, stolid wood-paneled barroom with two long tables and a bar; the presence of each location and our sense of being there is accomplished by stunning and artful theatrical effects the foremost of which is a complex, stunning soundscape which hurtles from the sound equipment which is eventually revealed upstage at center stage. Richly detailed, intense performances, hard driving choreography, the selection of appropriately evocative music (in addition to the brilliance in the quality of its sound projection), and an immersive text are all integral to the transporting quality present here. Still, the degree of success of the Elevator Repair Company in using sound to create verisimilitude is rare, if not unique.
It is the introduction into our party of vacationers of Pedro Romero, an exceptionally talented and sensual young bullfighter, that provides the combustion for the tumultuous conclusion to our trip to Spain. And it is in the bullfight scene, in which Romero demonstrates the superiority of his skills, that the production reaches its apogee. Romero, smashingly played by Susie Sokol, acts and dances an intensely choreographed bullfight supported by other company members; Mike Iveson (Jake) lovingly narrates with the text of Hemingway's aficionado observation of Romero's technique; the music soars; the crowd roars; the sounds of the bull's hoofs thunder; and there is a palpable rush of air as the bull lunges past the matador. All of these boldly employed theatrical devices combine together to put us into the center of the bullfight.
Ten actors play more than twenty-five roles with Lucy Taylor (Brett Ashley), Matt Tierney (Robert Cohn), Kate Scelsa (Frances), Ben Williams (Bill Gorton), Pete Simpson (Mike Campbell), Kaneza Schaal (Georgette), Julian Fleisher (Montoya), and Frank Boyd (Harvey Stone) all making solid contributions under the imaginative direction of John Collins.
The Select (The Sun Also Rises) performs from October 26 - November 4, 2012 at the McCarter Theatre Center (Matthews Theatre), 91 University Place, Princeton 08540. Box Office: 609-258-2787; online: www.mccarter.org.
The Select (The Sun Also Rises) based on the novel The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway; created and performed by Elevator Repair Service; directed by John Collins