GO TO A PLAY AND READ A BOOK

NOTE: Part of the joy of retirement is both the learning and the sharing of what I call “fascinations.” Sometimes those fascinations are things I knew before retirement. Sometimes the information is fascinating, fun and new to me. This week I give to you four entertaining and trivial fascinating fascinations. I hope you enjoy them.


I have always enjoyed plays. I like reading them and watching them. Even toyed with writing one years ago. Plays, whether they be one-act, three-act, or something completely different can be dramatic or comedic or simply fascinating.

So today, let me tell you about an amazing play that’s something completely different.

The play is titled “Gatz.” It’s presented by an experimental theatre group called Elevator Repair Service. It began performances in 2005 with a cast of 13 performers. It’s played around the country for many years and also at The Public Theatre in New York City. And the reviews have been very, very positive.

And here’s the thing. Each performance takes more than seven hours, which includes a dinner break and two short intermissions. And every single word in the play was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, even though he is not credited with originally creating the play. (That person was a man named Steve Bodow who went on to become the head writer of “The Daily Show” during the time John Stewart was the star.)

But let me tell you about the play.

As the play opens a man enters and sits down at a gray metal desk and tries to unsuccessfully boot up a computer. When the computer refuses to work, the man opens a Rolodex on the desk. Inside is a paperback copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” He picks it up and starts reading aloud.

Slowly, over half an hour or so, the man in the office becomes more and more animated as he’s reading. Pretty soon he’s doing the voices, raising his pitch almost to a falsetto for Daisy Buchanan and artificially deepening it for Tom. And then, miraculously, people who have been silently coming in and out of the office, going about their workaday business, begin to imitate the characters, speaking the lines and even acting them out. A young woman who had been idly reading a golf magazine turns into Jordan Baker. A bullying, key-jangling janitor becomes Tom. Wilson, the garage mechanic, emerges from the tech guy, summoned to deal with all that balky computer equipment.

And so it goes. The play becomes not a retelling of the Gatsby story but an enactment of the novel itself. “The Great Gatsby” is delivered word for word, brought to life by a low-rent office staff in the midst of their inscrutable business operations. No word in the play is not from the novel, and no word in the novel is not in the play.

Rebecca Mead, writing in “The New Yorker” said: “Watching ‘Gatz’ is a heightened version of reading the book oneself, including the same moments of riveted attention and mental wandering. Part of the power of ‘Gatz’ may lie in the way in which it requires the audience’s submission to the exclusive experience of reading, without the distractions of family, television, laptop, or iPhone. Being shut up in a darkened theatre with ‘Gatz’ is a strangely potent way to reproduce the increasingly elusive sensation of being enraptured by a book.”

So there you have it. A book that is literally a play. And one amazing set of performances by what has to be a very dedicated cast.

Want to learn more? Just Google the play’s title.
Want to see an excerpt. It’s here: https://vimeo.com/20560043.

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