Reviewed by Roxanne Sadovsky and David C.C. Erickson
DAVID: The Guthrie Theatre's production of playwright Simon Levy's adaptation of The Great Gatsby brings to light all the things that have recently gone wrong at the formerly venerable institution, now turned theatre-theme-park for the highbrow wannabes of this development-happy burg.
The new building is a big blue barn, into which light enters ineffectually through whimsically placed windows, or glaringly through the south-facing wall of glass, blinding the bartenders at the "Cue" restaurant, while they busily serve anything but a convenient nosh before the show, to confused patrons trying to find something between "starters" and "entrees" that has more to do with a quick bite, and less to do with haute cuisine, which isn't a business I thought the Guthrie was in anyway. Silly me. Oh for the good old days of brownies and a Mike's Lemonade, served mere feet from the theatre aisle by a smiling catering employee. The building's interior has the feel of a not-completed, half-lit airport terminal, with stratospherically long escalators that give one the claustrophobia cattle must feel on their way to the slaughterhouse floor, and a gift shop that is decidedly an afterthought, barely large enough for the hyper-artistic crap that presumably every theatre-goer craves. Some architectural playboy sold the city a bill of goods and now we have to live with it. This blue crate-and-barrel horror makes the patented Ghery distended pop can that is the Weisman museum on the University campus look downright elegant.
Then there's the main "thrust" stage. You might as well be back at the old location; it looks pretty much the same, which left me hoping for some of the old theatrical magic. Unfortunately, the Guthrie seems to have sold their non-profit deep-pocketed soul down the river for the sake of asses on seats.
Pedestrian staging, glacial pacing, and a script so eager to present whole speeches lifted from the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that at times it seemed to abandon all pretense of drama for the sake of rote recitation.
The remedy? Put down your "Fennel-cured Pacific halibut with Danish brown bread salad" (one of those inscrutable appetizers masquarading as "starters"), get out the pencil and CUT CUT CUT. There were gaps in momentum you could drive a truck through. And the car on the dolly? Every time I see that gag I stop taking the show seriously. Of course I stopped taking this show seriously about five minutes in, though I may fry in Hell for disrespecting the almighty F. Scott in his long-abandoned quasi-hometown. Please forgive me, Garrison Keillor.
Were it not for the capable acting, even by too-young-for-the-part-but-cast-because-he-looks-like-Fitzgerald-in-a-pseudo-twenties-suit Nick Carraway, played by Matthew Amendt , the wait for the inevitable "born ceaselessly into the past" closing line would have been intolerable agony. Shame on Joe Dowling and the rest of the highbrow-for-lowbrows gang for turning a proud Minnesota tradition into a culture factory on par with the Mall of America, and cranking out this dog of a show. At least at the Mall you can find decent parking.
ROX: I have no idea why I was so gung-ho about seeing this production. Perhaps it was the allure of the "jazz age," seeing the big band era come to life in front of my eyes, the way good theatre can transport you just about anywhere. Maybe it was the fact that I had already read the book and therefore wouldn't get frustrated trying to figure out the plot line. In any case, I learned my lesson: Just because it's a good book, doesn't mean it translates well to the stage. Clearly, colorful as it is, Gatsby is not one that begs to be made into a Broadway-bound play, anymore than its contemporary at the Ordway, the great and powerful Ozical, "Wicked." What's next, "Catcher in the Rye ?" The trend in putting amazingly vivid, provocative, and life changing novels on stage calls to mind the age-old question: when is enough enough? I mean, why bother hijacking everyman's imagination when the imagery and story that the book provides will more than suffice? Not to toot my own creativity horn or anything, but the translation to stage of this magical story about the decline and fall of the great American dream doesn't compare to the story that my imagination wrapped around this great novel when reading it, at once leaving me teary eyed and contemplative. Conversely, seeing it on stage left me feeling empty, bored, even "so what?"-ing the entire tragic ending. The acting was great, but the set was too big, the script too long, and the overall production fairly hollow. Sure, director David Esbjornson had some good ideas, but the gestalt fell flat. The chemistry just wasn't alive.
As for the "big blue barn", I am not as disenchanted with the new Guthrie as David is. Certainly I much prefer the old one, especially being able to walk there and not getting lost in the complex that it has now become. However, I've no need for hobnobbing or shopping, let alone jutting myself over the river between acts. It's a play, not Disneyland, but if other people have a need for the Guthrie Experience, then I can't complain so long as they continue to bring us quality shows. So far, we're not off to a good start, but I have faith that this clunky start is only a bad case of starting off on the wrong foot.
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