By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood November 23, 2012 at 1:30PM
On November 28, “Gatz” finally reaches a theater in Los Angeles, seven years after REDCAT first asked to produce the page-by-page retelling on stage of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby.”
When “Gatz” played New York’s Public Theater two years ago, Ben Brantley’s review in the New York Times began: “The most compelling love affair being conducted on a New York stage this season isn’t between a man and a woman. (Or a man and a man, a woman and a woman or a boy and a horse.) It is between a man and a book.”
By that time, the six-and-a-half-hour play in which workers in a shabby office enact the Jazz Age tragedy from first word to last sentence had been seen in Norway, Zurich, Vienna, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Australia, Portland, Oregon and Brussels, Belgium.
According to Mark Murphy, who has been the executive director of REDCAT (the acronym stands for Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) since it opened in October, 2003), the Elevator Repair Service, which created “Gatz,” was frozen out of New York and Los Angeles because the Fitzgerald estate had given those rights to a commercial producer who was planning to adapt the novel into a play.
“The Great Gatsby,” which is a contender for the elusive “Great American Novel” title, has eluded most attempts to recreate it in another medium. The 1949 movie which starred Alan Ladd and the 1974 movie starring Robert Redford misunderstood the book about Jimmy Gatz who reinvents himself as the glamorous bootlegger Jay Gatsby. Roger Ebert’s review described the Redford movie as “never penetrating to the souls of the characters. It would take about the same time to read Fitzgerald’s novel as to view this movie – and that’s what I’d recommend.”
We will find out next May whether Leonardo DiCaprio and director Buz Luhrmann can crack the artistic nut in the next film version; the 3-D film was pushed back from a holiday 2012 release.
The producer who held the New York and Los Angeles rights to the novel mounted his play at the Seattle Rep and Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater to mediocre reviews, and it faded away. In 2010 New York rights were once more available.
On January 1, 2012, the Los Angeles rights also became available, and Mark Murphy pounced. His relationships with John Collins, the director of “Gatz,” and the Wooster Group of which Elevator Repair Service is an offspring go back more than 20 years.
Nearly everyone in the Los Angeles cast has played in “Gatz” in one country or another; half of them were in the New York cast, and the linchpin, whom Brantley’s review called “the astonishing Scott Shepherd,” is once again the reader and narrator, Nick Carraway, a bored office worker who picks up a copy of the book while waiting for a malfunctioning computer. (“The blurring of Nick the reader into Nick the narrator is, I promise you, unlike anything you’ve ever seen in the theater,” Brantley wrote.)
REDCAT will have nine performances of “Gatz between November 28 and December 9. “They had a two week window,” says Murphy, “but because of the physical demands of the play they can’t do it more than three days in a row.”)