Wednesday, October 2, 2013

B&B presents an "ambitious" Gatsby

The Great Gatsby-Ty Boice as Gatsby-Cassie Greer as Daisy -
courtesy Casey Campbell Photography
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Bag and Baggage Theatre artistic director Scott Palmer can never be accused of taking the easy road, as he clearly demonstrates in his ambitious production of The Great Gatsby (adapted by Simon Levy from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel). The production itself is beautiful, and the acting generally superb. However, the necessarily condensed format of live theater does not allow for a complete exploration of the story’s characters and themes; the show may appeal most to an audience already familiar with (and fond of) the novel.

The Great Gatsby-Ian Armstrong as Nick
- courtesy Casey Campbell Photograhy

In order to cram the meat of Gatsby into two acts, Levy tells a somewhat expository, disjointed, and episodic tale. Much of it is related by young Midwesterner Nick Carroway, off to make his fortune in post-WWI New York, who falls in with an extraordinarily vapid crowd of obscenely monied wastrels on Long Island. Nick reunites his alluring but morally vacant cousin, Daisy Buchanan, with the mysterious Jay Gatsby (nee Jimmy Gatz), her pre-war Great Love who was thrown over for the incredibly wealthy Tom Buchanan. While Tom makes little effort to hide his own serial infidelity, he is less understanding when it comes to Daisy’s transgressions. Ultimately, everyone suffers – Tom’s latest lover Myrtle killed in a hit and run accident by Daisy, Gatsby shot to death by Myrtle’s jealous if misinformed husband George, a disillusioned Nick who flees back to the relatively moral high ground of the Midwest – everyone, that is, except Daisy and Tom, who (in Fitzgerald’s words) “let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

From her first moment on stage, Cassie Greer (Daisy) creates a genuinely loathsome character. Her deliberately languid poses and delivery dripping with aristocratic ennui paint a clear picture of a hollow, completely self-absorbed and utterly useless human being. Colin Wood (Tom Buchanan) is equally loathsome; Wood’s burly physique and larger-than-life arrogance perfectly convey Tom’s entitled, alpha-male, competitive, white supremacist persona.

The Great Gatsby-Cassie Greer as Daisy-Colin Wood as Tom
-courtesy Casey Campbell Photography
Perhaps the trickiest role is that of Nick Carraway (Ian Armstrong) because it is neither black nor white – neither victim nor oppressor, neither rich nor poor.  Armstrong manages to convey Carraway’s ambiguous relationship to his cousin and her crew – simultaneously attracted, puzzled, and repelled by the lives they lead; eager to be accepted and yet hesitant, and ultimately unwilling, to buy in to their decadence.

And then there’s Gatsby (Ty Boice). Boice clearly expresses Gatsby’s superficial charm and the hollowness of the Golden Boy character Gatsby has invented for himself. However, he misses the mark a little by underplaying Gatsby’s other side – the real Jimmy Gatz that he occasionally reveals to Nick - the wartime buddy and regular guy. This may be as much a function of the script as the actor.

Ironically, the only unambiguously innocent character is murderer George Wilson (Adam Syron). Syron does a fine job of portraying a baffled working-class victim of his wife’s infidelity and Buchanan’s coldly mocking false promises. Despite the character’s obsequious and sometimes desperate sniveling, Syron earns the audience’s sympathy and (by killing Gatsby) respect for standing up for himself.

Costume designer Melissa Heller has created beautiful, period-appropriate costumes that capture the tawdry glitz of the early ‘20s. The minimalist set sketches the opulence of the setting, and the dock built out into the audience is a clever touch that nicely supports the illusion of unseen bay-front mansions.

The Great Gatsby runs through Sunday, October 20th with shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2:00. All performances are at the VenetianTheatre, 253 E. Main Street, Hillsboro.


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