In today’s Wall Street Journal I review a Florida production of a new stage version of The Great Gatsby. Here’s an excerpt.
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“The Great Gatsby” is a novel short enough to aspire to perfection and good enough to approach it. Every character is memorable, every sentence unostentatiously lapidary. In addition, it says something essential about America’s national character, which F. Scott Fitzgerald embodied in the elusive person of Jay Gatsby, the original “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere.” A self-defined, self-deluding man, he made himself over into what he longed to be—and paid the price for it. No surprise, then, that so many attempts have been made to translate “Gatsby” into other media, including John Harbison’s 1999 operatic adaptation and a half-dozen different screen versions. All of them, however, have been futile, partly because of the nature of the novel, which is an intimate, almost undramatic conversation piece, and partly because Fitzgerald’s quicksilver tale needs nothing more than words on the page to make its indelible effect.
Nevertheless, Simon Levy has given it yet another try with his stage version of “Gatsby,” which received its premiere in 2006 at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater and has now made its way south to Florida’s Orlando Shakespeare Theater, a regional company that goes in for staged versions of classic novels (“Nicholas Nickleby,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” have all been mounted there with memorable skill in recent seasons). Mr. Levy’s “Gatsby” is short—two acts, two hours—and straightforward to a fault and beyond, a plot-intensive, dialogue-driven adaptation. Virtually all of Nick Carraway’s first-person narration, the wellspring of the novel’s color and character, has been ruthlessly excised. Imagine listening to a familiar opera performed with piano accompaniment and you’ll get the idea: The “tunes” are still there, but there’s not much left in the way of atmosphere.
Up to a point, good acting can offset such grievous losses, and Matthew Goodrich’s Errol Flynn-like performance in the title role is very fine. His cool, offhand poise is like an elegantly cut but threadbare suit through which you can see Gatsby’s longing and desperation….
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Read the whole thing here.