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The Great Gatsby at Seattle Repertory Theatre

The Great Gatsby
Lorenzo Pisoni and Heidi Armbruster
The 1974 film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's seminal Twenties novel, The Great Gatsby, was a sumptuous and starry bore, a case of all dressed up with nowhere to go. Despite some really fine acting, fluid and nearly cinematic direction by David Esbjornson,  a sleek and versatile scenic design by Tom Lynch, and rather ravishing period costumes by Jane Greenwood, Simon Levy's stage adaptation is further evidence that some books are best read, and not transferred to the stage or the screen.

The tale of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious, wealthy man with a shady reputation trying to recapture a lost and ultimately doomed romance with his World War I era southern belle sweetheart (the now unhappily married Daisy Buchanan), is narrated by Gatsby's friend Nick Carraway, who is truly the only sympathetic figure in the story. Daisy's husband Tom is a rather loutish fellow carrying on a back street affair with the blowzily pathetic Myrtle Wilson, who is also cheating on her working class husband George. Nick is smitten by the charismatic but ultimately chilly Jordan Baker. Tragedies (which are telegraphed from a mile away) strike, romances are shattered, but ultimately it is hard to care about these people, despite strong, focused work from most of the principals, just as was the case with the '74 film. Director Esbjornson creates numerous haunting images, and an act two section with scenes taking place in several distinct locales simultaneously is indeed expert work. But the show starts slowly, then comes to life only in fits and starts.

Lorenzo Pison is a dashing, charismatic Gatsby, and does elicit some small amount of sympathy as he embodies the character's futile quest for his lost love Daisy. Heidi Armbruster's Daisy is a fascinating, high octane Southern belle, though the performance seems more appropriate for one of Tennessee Williams' ladies than one of Fitzgerald's. Matthew Amendt is all you could ask for as narrator Nick Carraway, finding all the facets of the character with meticulous ease, wonderfully conveying his hero worship of Gatsby and ultimate distaste for the likes of Daisy and Tom. Amendt's closing monologue is a quietly and painfully moving coda, most impressively handled. Erik Heger is strong as the brusque Tom Buchanan, and Kathryn Van Meter as the doomed Myrtle makes much of relatively sparse dialogue, capturing a woman wanting to escape her own social status yet unable to fit into the more elevated one she yearns for. Bradford Farwell is impressive as Myrtle's bereft spouse George, and Cheyenne Casebier mines some brittle humor out of the odd character of Jordan. In one of several meaty bit roles, Sean G. Griffin is rather touching as Gatsby's somewhat estranged yet loving father. The small ensemble does what it can to suggest various partygoers and socialites, but their scenes seem rather noticeably underpopulated. David J. Wright is a welcome addition to the mood of the play as the omnipresent Saxman.

Wayne Barker has composed some excellent original music for the production, especially a haunting and ghostly main theme, while choreographer Sean Curran seamlessly weaves in the dance elements needed.  A great deal of care and effort was obviously employed in bringing this new adaptation (first seen at the Guthrie in Minneapolis) to the stage. But it is best classified as a noble effort which yields only modest rewards.

The Great Gatsby runs through December 10 at Seattle Repertory Theatre's Bagley Wright main-stage, 155 Mercer St. in Seattle center. For more information, visit the Rep on-line at www.seattlerep.org.


Photo: © copyright Chris Bennion 2006   



- David-Edward Hughes



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