Los Angeles Theater Feature: GATZ (REDCAT)

Post image for Los Angeles Theater Feature: GATZ (REDCAT)

by Tony Frankel on November 25, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles


A phenomenon is arriving at the Roy and Edna Disney Cal Arts Theatre (REDCAT) this week in Los Angeles. I promise that once its 9-performance run is over on December 9, the buzz about Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz will have seismically traveled to your doorstep, and you will kick yourself knowing that you missed one of the most celebrated theatrical events of this century. The time to get your tickets to this guaranteed sell-out is now, as the sensation begins November 28, 2012.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema feature of GATZ at REDCAT in Los Angeles

One morning in the shabby office of a mysterious small business, an employee finds a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in the clutter on his desk. For reasons unknown, he starts to read the literary classic out loud and doesn’t stop. At first his coworkers hardly notice, but, after a series of strange coincidences, they appear to take on the roles of The Great Gatsby’s characters, and it’s no longer clear whether the reader, “Nick,” is reading the book or the book is transforming him.

At 8 hours long from start to finish, and with a cast of 13, Gatz has become one of the most talked-about, must-see experiences in recent memory, and it certainly cinched Elevator Repair Service’s reputation one of New York’s most highly-acclaimed experimental theater companies. ERS is a theater ensemble founded by director John Collins and a group of actors in 1991, and since that time, they have built a body of work that has earned them a loyal following. ERS creates its performances through extended periods of collaboration, and each piece is developed over the course of a season through several work-in-progress showings to small audiences and culminates in an extended run in New York.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema feature of GATZ at REDCAT in Los Angeles

Gatz premiered in Brussels in May, 2006, the onset of a European tour, but by then it had already attained an underground cult status in New York, with semi-secret private showings in an obscure location. Why underground? For years prior to 2006, ERS had wanted to adapt The Great Gatsby, but had struggled to obtain permission from the estate of Fitzgerald, who died in 1940 at the age of 44. No doubt in an effort to escape the estate’s attention, ERS moved underground. Yet in some ways, it was the denial for the rights that led to the development of this unique theater marathon, which isn’t a retelling or an adaptation of the Gatsby story but an enactment of the novel itself: We simply have an office drone named Nick, played by the Wooster Group’s Scott Shepherd, who has a driven need to read the entire book’s roughly 200 pages out loud (although the intoxicating Shepard appears to be reading directly from the novel, he actually has the entire work memorized). Hence, the American masterpiece is delivered word-for-word, startlingly brought to life by director John Collins and a low-rent office staff in the midst of their inscrutable business operations.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema feature of GATZ at REDCAT in Los Angeles

The producer who had the rights to The Great Gatsby tried out a play adaptation. After that… well,  let’s just say that the rights were no longer frozen in New York. But by the time that Gatz played New York’s Public Theater two years ago, it had already been seen around the world (ERS has also premiered other adaptations included Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises and Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury, but not word-for-word). The Times’ Ben Brantley saw the performance at the Public, and hailed Gatz as the best show of the year: “The most remarkable achievement in theater…Gatz captured—in inventively theatrical terms—the unmatchable, heady rush of falling in love with a book. And Scott Shepherd, as a common reader seduced by a great American novel, gave—hands down—the year’s most heroic performance.”

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema feature of GATZ at REDCAT in Los Angeles

And while Los Angeles seems often to be the last player picked in the game of theater, we are nonetheless lucky that a confluence of events has brought Gatz to our city: The rights became available in Los Angeles on January 1, 2012, Elevator Repair Service and REDCAT made a deal, the cast (nearly all of whom have been in one production or another of Gatz) was available, and all you have to do is get your ticket.

It is assured that Gatz never feels its length; it includes two intermissions and a 75-minute dinner break (for a breakdown of each section by chapters of the novel, visit REDCAT). For this production, seats are reserved, but make sure that you are on time. Theatre like this arrives once in a blue moon, and you don’t want to miss a word-for-word of it.

photos by Mark Barton, Gene Pittman, and Paula Court

REDCAT – Roy and Edna Disney Cal Arts Theatre
plays November 28 – December 9, 2012
for tickets, call 213-237-2800 or visit REDCAT, where you will also find info on dining, parking, and more

{ 1 comment }

John Topping December 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Just for the record, having seen ERS’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY: APRIL SEVENTH 1928, it should be pointed out that, although it was an ABRIDGED version of the novel, it was otherwise very much a word-for-word reading, right down to every “he said” and “she said” contained in the section of the novel they “adapted.” In that production, it became very confusing, because single characters were sometimes played by three different actors, and you had to figure out on your own when they switched (and whether the character was male or female, as any member of the cast might take over the role). I haven’t seen GATZ, but I don’t think they employ the same confounding casting technique this time around.

And don’t forget that Stage and Cinema’s Harvey Perr is a huge fan of the show. You can read what he thought about it here:

Comments on this entry are closed.