In what seems to be a big year for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel, “The Great Gatsby,” the Arizona Theatre Company is currently showing its own variation of the tale at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix until April 8.
Along with its current stage performances in Phoenix, “The Great Gatsby” will be released in as a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio in December.
The play wasted no time to jump right into developing its characters. Within the first few minutes, viewers are introduced to the realities of Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s broken marriage, the lifestyle of George and Myrtle Wilson, the cute and awkward tension between Jordan Baker and Nick Carraway and the grandeur of the legendary Jay Gatsby.
As show attendants filed into the Center Stage, a large screen displayed a projected billboard with a wooden panel and round spectacle glasses that read “Oculist Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.”
Although T.J. Eckleburg is not a character in the play, the eerie billboard with his name displays moving eyes periodically throughout the production. Just as it is in the original novel, this billboard is symbolic of God watching over the young American characters in their everyday lives.
Anxious murmurs from the crowd and plentiful commentary about the mysterious curtain were immediately hushed as a dramatic monologue presented by Nick, the story’s narrator, began the night’s performance.
In order to remain true to the original version and provide narrow and in-depth character development, the stage performance of the tale utilizes monologues by Nick to tell his version of Gatsby’s tale.
A well-casted group of characters truly embody American life of both the rich and the poor during the Roaring ‘20s. Set during the time of prohibition and rise of the bootlegging business, each individual character clearly portrays the bittersweet emotions and the dramatic realities of life that Fitzgerald wrote about in his novel.
Although not all of the secretive details interwoven into the lives of these young Americans are immediately revealed, the careful introduction of each character in the play allows for a soothing balance between anticipation and assurance.
The effective use of props and expensive gizmos demonstrate the grandeur of Gatsby’s lavish lifestyle, leaving the audience especially awestruck.
During one of the most informative scenes of the play, dancers creatively carry large wooden panels to represent both the wings of Gatsby’s plane as well as a bright yellow taxi. The audience was expressly impressed by the multiple uses of these simple wooden panels and showed their awe with uproarious clapping.
Simple props were creatively manipulated to display the magnificence of Gatsby’s wealth. The original novel is immensely descriptive of Gatsby’s beautiful home, and the theater set adequately displays the splendor of his mansion that is central to the plot.
However, during one of the most dramatic scenes in the entirety of the plot, the use of props and backdrop evoke confusion. A large silhouette figure of a dead body and the strategic use of shadows made an overwhelmingly dramatic scene somewhat confusing.
For those who have read the novel, the details of this scene are clear. However, it seems evident that those who have chosen the play version as their introduction to the story may find themselves perplexed about exactly what happened in this intense scene.
Despite the audience’s momentary confusion, the play as a whole is true to the brilliant details of the classic American tale.
In the closing monologue, Nick wraps up his narration of the tale with the same line that concludes the novel and has become one of the most famous lines in American literature:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
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