Monday, September 1, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review of GATZ

By Toby Zinman

Review of GATZ

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By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

The emperor walked beneath the beautiful canopy in the procession, and all the people in the street said, "Goodness, the emperor's new clothes are incomparable! What a beautiful jacket. What a perfect fit!" No one wanted it to be noticed that he could see nothing, for then it would be said that he was unfit for his position or that he was stupid. None of the emperor's clothes had ever before received such praise. "But he doesn't have anything on!" said a small child.

The production of Gatz by the Elevator Repair Service, a New York based theatre company, has been praised internationally by critics and audiences for years.  Finally seeing it during the brief stop at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton before it returns to New York’s Public Theatre, I find myself playing the role of the small child: the Emperor has no clothes.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, is a beloved, complex and generally wonderful book.  Simultaneously indicting and adoring the world of glamorous “careless people,”  Fitzgerald portrayed the moneyed vulgar world  in prose both meditative and lush. 

Gatz begins when a man (Scott Shepherd) who works in a grungy office discovers his computer isn’t working and finds a copy of The Great Gatsby  in his rolodex. He starts to read it aloud—and continues to the end, nearly eight hours later.  He functions as Nick Carroway, Fitzgerald’s narrator, but we never find out anything about the man or about anyone else in the office or what business they’re in or where they are or what year it is (computers  plus manual typewriters?). 

Without any context, the role-playing as it evolves has no layers; we never know what if any relation exits between the office characters and the novel’s characters. Sometimes the office workers seem to be aware of his reading aloud, other times, he seems to be reading to himself, only audible to us.

Everyone who has read the novel knows what these characters look like and sound like—Jordan Baker’s languid, athletic hauteur, Daisy’s voice that sounds like money, Tom’s muscular bulk under his elegant coat, Myrtle’s sexy, greedy neediness—and so on. We know what Gatsby’s silk shirts look and  feel like, we see the green light across the bay.  

So when these actors sound like and look like ordinary people, the allure that is  the heart of the novel vanishes. In the second half the pretense of the office vanishes, the narrative is dramatized to a greater degree, and it becomes slightly more theatrical. But Gatz  neither adapts nor interprets, it just reads aloud a book we could read to ourselves with more pleasure and in less time. Finally, this  may be the longest, dullest audiobook ever.

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Elevator Repair Service at McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton NJ. Through Sunday. Tickets $150. (inc. both halves, 7 ¾ hours)   Information: 609.258.2787 or www.mccarter.org

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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