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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thoughts on Gatz

Last weekend, Pam and I had the opportunity to see Elevator Repair Service's production of Gatz at the Public. (Thanks to a few good friends who got us ticket as a wedding present.) It's one of those productions that "everyone is talking about," as they say. I don't need to tell most readers of this much about it: they perform the entire book, word for word, on stage.

Of course, there's a reason it's called Gatz and not Elevator Repair Service's The Great Gatsby. The production is not a reenactment of the novel; it's a celebration of the experience of reading a book. Housed in a dreary office space that might as well have been designed by Vogons, the company slowly emerges from this environment to embody Fitzgerald's characters. We see the "real world" slowly move to the background, and is eventually entirely supplanted by the reality of the theatrical experience.

I thought the production was exceptional, not exactly an insight. Nonetheless, it was a privilege to watch performers that are at the top of their game, who earned the right to be where they are, using all their available tools to create something pleasurable and insightful and ambitious.

I loved the length, which was about 7 hours including three intermissions and a dinner break. I loved it because a "full length evening" has gotten shorter and shorter. I'm just as guilty as anyone else. An hour and fifteen minutes with no intermission is becoming increasingly common, and I think it's a bit of a cancerous trend. One can tell a story in less time, always. Editing down to the bone has is the curse of Microsoft Word, I think. I could type out the story of Star Wars in a paragraph. The passage of time, though, is literally impossible to replicate. To feel yourself come to the end of a long story, especially one this well told, is uniquely satisfying.

I think we've mistaken spending time on things that aren't absolutely indefensibly necessary as wasting time. What is so wrong with the possibility of a moment of boredom, even if that moment buys you a far richer experience?

Any reservations I have about the evening were really a matter of personal taste, and not the level of competence on display. The Great Gatsby has never been a novel that I deeply connect to, and even as I found new appreciation for it by watching Gatz, I still wouldn't count it as novel I'm aching to revisit or spend more time with.

Furthermore, there is a pervasive sense of geniality throughout the performance, and that's not really my style. Elevator Repair Service is charming, winning. There is, though, not much danger to be found. I never felt scared or unsettled. That's not what was being sold, so I can't fault them for not providing it. I'm just someone who likes a little more bite overall, and Gatz is a lot more like a hug than a fist fight, even in its most dramatic moments.

Finally, as I watched, it occurred to me that Gatz is a director's piece, even as the actors are performing career-best level work. In fact, a lot of my favorite work is the product of strong directors (Ivo Van Hove, Robert Wilson). As a writer, it's probably worthwhile for me to explore exactly what that means to me. Not that I want to direct, but what it is about these pieces that excite me, and what about that excitement can I channel into my own work and working relationships.

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