Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Great Gatsby at Tacoma Little Theatre

Photos, left to right: Gatsby (Rodman Bolek), Tom (Jacob Tice), Daisy (Veronica Tuttell), Nick (Kelly Mackay), and Jordan (Ana Bury)

I have never been particularly impressed with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby, which I know may be sacrilege to some and puts me in a minority among lovers of literature. That’s not to be considered formal criticism; it’s a quirk of personal taste. I can’t objectively find fault with the novel. In fact, as I review the story in preparation for writing this review of the stage version now playing at Tacoma Little Theatre, I am impressed (objectively) with the depth of Fitzgerald’s perceptions and with his story structure. But subjectively the story just never clicked for me. The same can be said for the stage play.
The acting is good overall, the direction by Dale Westgaard is good, the costumes are great, the set (I could almost say lack of set) by Blake R. York works well, as does Pavlina Morris’s lighting design. The Great Gatsby has everything you could ask for in a dramatic show, but it didn’t grab me.
The death scene, only Nick left standing
All Photos courtesy of DK Photography
The story plays out on an almost empty stage with projected images of Jay Gatsby’s house and the idyllic landscape of the fictional Long Island community of East Egg, and a few chairs, a drink cart and an armoire are brought in by costumed servants instead of stagehands, and moved about as needed to stand in for furniture and car seats. Having servants move props was an excellent way to solve the problem of how to create a millionaire’s home and other settings on a community theater budget.
Nick Carraway (ably played by Kelly Mackay) is a nice Midwesterner who has moved to New York to make his fortune in the financial boom of the jazz age. He’s a Word War I veteran and an upstanding young man on the verge of being seduced by the lavish life of his high rolling neighbors. He lives in a rented cottage next door to Jay Gatsby (Rodman Bolek), a mysterious millionaire. Gatsby is in love with Nick’s, cousin Daisy (Veronica Tuttell) who is in a lousy marriage to Tom Buchanan (Jacob Tice), an abusive, self-centered and a politically conservative racist jerk who is having an affair with Myrtle (Stacia Russell), the wife of his mechanic, George (Mason Quinn).
Gatsby throws the most lavish of parties imaginable with everyone who is anyone in attendance, but he never takes part in his own parties. Nick watches from next door and wishes he could be a part of the fun. He periodically steps out of the action to narrate parts of the story. In his scenes with the other characters, especially in portraying his love affair with the sultry Jordan Baker (Ana Bury), Mackay does a solid job of acting; but it is in his role as the narrator that he especially shines. That is no mean feat, because a narrator seldom if ever has a chance to act out dramatic scenes. But as Nick in the role as the story teller Mackay creates an authentic and loveable character. Through simple and nuanced expressions as he talks to the audience he shows Nick’s charm and sincerity, his fascination with Gatsby, and his conflicted emotions.  
Most of the principal cast members give strong and nuanced performances. I could not help being attracted to Jordan for her demeanor, even while being aware of how shallow she is, and I despised Tom Buchanan—as I should. Tice’s portrayal is creepy and infuriating. In smaller parts, Quinn as the mechanic George Wilson and Russell are outstanding.
So, with all this going for this performance, why was I not captivated by the story? First, the pacing was slow, especially in the first act, and ironically the very fine and admirably nuanced acting contributed to the slow pace. I wanted more drama, which did not come until near the end. Second, most of the characters were not likeable enough for me to care what happens to them. Other than Nick, who was more observer than participant, and George the mechanic, I did not like any of them. I also did not like the party scenes. They were too obviously staged. It looked like the actors were trying way too hard to appear to be having fun. And the dances they did looked nothing like the popular dances of the roaring ’20s. At Gatsby’s parties they would have been doing the charleston and the lindy hop and the tango. Even the foxtrot and the waltz were still popular in the 1920s, but the actors in these scenes were doing no recognizable dance steps. That’s a minor point, but it irritated me.
I must reiterate that my objections are subjective. I know many people in the opening night audience loved it (including my friend and fellow critic Michael Dresdner — see his review here).
WHAT: The Great Gatsby
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday (early 1 p.m. matinee on Feb. 1), through Feb. 8
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $22-$15
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281,

Schedule change to accommodate Seahawks fans on Super Bowl Sunday
Due to overwhelming requests from patrons who are Seahawks fans, TLT has moved their matinee start time on Sunday, February 1, 2015 to noon, and are offering a $12.00 ticket special for anyone who uses the code SEAHAWKS either at online checkout or at the box office (in person or over the phone). This special applies only to new ticket orders.

No comments: