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The Great Gatsby

a Drama
by Simon Levy

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Georgia Ensemble Theatre and Conservatory [WEBSITE]
ID# 4550

SHOWING : February 27, 2014 - March 16, 2014



Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, passionately pursues the elusive Daisy Buchanan. Nick Carraway, a young newcomer to Long Island, is drawn into their world of obsession, greed and danger. The breathtaking glamour and decadent excess of the Jazz Age come to the stage in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, and in Simon Levy’s adaptation, approved by the Fitzgerald Estate.

"It’s nothing less than magnificent, a powerful realization of Fitzgerald’s novel of obsession, love, money and the American dream. There’s no question that ’Gatsby’ has all the elements of great theater."
— Minneapolis Post-Bulletin

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The Semi-Great Gatsby
by playgoer
Friday, February 28, 2014
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby" has been bandied about as possibly the Great American Novel. Its translations to the screen have been less than lauded, and Simon Levy’s adaptation for the stage is not wholly successful either. It’s difficult to translate the opulence of majestic Long Island locations to various spots on a stage and to populate those locations with a handful of actors.

The ensemble is a large part of the problem. They’re college age, but have been given mature, loosely fitted costumes that make them look slightly ridiculous. During the majority of the show, they move set pieces and act as servants, but they’re also a part of the scene-setting choreography (by Emily Yewell Volin) that starts both acts. As it is, the scene-setting primes the audience for a college-level production rather than the professional production Georgia Ensemble Theatre is aiming for. It’s great that these young performers are being given a chance to work with the pros, but they’re not yet working at a truly professional level themselves.

The performances of the main characters are generally excellent. Jason MacDonald is perfectly cast as the iconic Gatsby, a tall, elegant figure of a man with a naturally aristocratic air. Bryan Brendle brings power to Tom Buchanan, although he seems more rough around the edges than a privileged brute of a man might be. David Plunkett is slight and somewhat meek as our narrator, Nick Carraway, but carries the role off. Rachel Garner is all poses and glances as Jordan Baker, a well-known woman golfer, and it’s difficult to take one’s eyes off her. Elizabeth Well Berkes is perfection as Daisy Buchanan, pretty and sweet and conflicted. The principals work together well.

The supporting cast is made up of accomplished actors too, but they’re not shown to great advantage. Stacey Melich appears to be too old and hardened for the role of Myrtle Wilson, and Robin Bloodworth doesn’t fully capture the slow-witted essence of her husband George. Vicki Ellis Gray has a couple of roles and fills them well, but doesn’t seem physically distinct in them. Steve Hudson, in three roles, has the opposite problem: he’s so different and excellent in these three roles that he draws focus to the actor instead of to the characters he plays. I think the show would have worked better with a more mature ensemble that could have restricted each ensemble member to a single role of significance. Director Tess Malis Kincaid’s choices in rounding out the cast don’t benefit the show.

Alan Yeong’s costume design is wonderful for the principals, with Rachel Garner looking particularly fetching in her many outfits. George Deavours’ wigs work well for Elizabeth Wells Berkes and not so well for Stacey Melich. Mary Parker’s lighting has an impact, with a nice dock effect and some colorful cyclorama changes, along with luminous billboard eyes that observe the onstage action. Phillip Male’s set combines a number of distinct settings with skewed, scorched doorways and fold-out art deco panels. A marble staircase up left, a dock down right, and a platform representing a pool dominate the playing area, with scrims in various positions allowing glimpses of remembered or outside action. I only wish that something had been done scenically to represent the airplane ride that takes place at one point.

Music is part of the production. The show starts out with a live clarinettist, and canned music and mimed playing of instruments surface at various points in the production. It doesn’t feel integrated. Director Tess Malis Kincaid may have done a commendable job in getting fine performances out of the principal actors, but the surrounding detail doesn’t quite work. This review is based on the last preview performance, and things may improve during the run of the show. The directorial problems I saw, though, were in conception, not particularly in execution. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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