By Alison Tingley
The Great Gatsby is now playing at the Erie Playhouse. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 literary classic comes to life under the direction of Kate Neubert-Lechner. The Great Gatsby was adapted for the stage by Simon Levy seemingly in 2012 from what I can tell. The adaptation was a finalist for the PEN Literary Award in drama. It’s also been made into a movie a couple of times. The 1974 version starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. The 2013 version starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.
I think The Great Gatsby is one of the books that I pretended to read in 11th grade. I’m pretty sure I can admit to this publically at this point as the statute of limitations on grade changes must have run out by now. Besides, the likelihood of my 11th grade English teacher reading this is pretty slim. I’m pretty sure I never saw the movie either. What’s my point, you ask? My point is that I, sadly, had only a vague idea of the story when I went to see the show. If you also fall into this category of literary ignorance, allow me to break down the basics for you. If you don’t, feel free to skip ahead.
The setting is Long Island, NY 1922 during Prohibition. Nick Carraway, a very scrupulous young man, has just arrived from the Midwest. He moved to New York to make his fortune because the Midwest seemed too dull after his experiences in the war. He happens to live next door to Jay Gatsby who is notorious for throwing lavish parties. That’s all anyone seems to know for sure about Gatsby, but they seem to adore him anyway. Nick eventually meets Gatsby and they become friends. In the mean time, Nick visits his wealthy cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom in East Egg. There he meets Jordan Baker, a champion golfer, and learns that Tom is having an affair. He wonders why Daisy doesn’t leave Tom, but still accepts an invitation to go into town with Tom and Jordan. There they meet Myrtle Wilson, Tom’s mistress, and her husband George. Eventually everyone meets, and it is clear that Tom is no fan of Gatsby’s. While strange to him, Nick seems to accept the frivolous lives of his new acquaintances. Though, he doesn’t quite fit in with this new crowd. A lot of stuff happens, but I don’t want to give anything away.
The main characters are played by Brendan Daugherty (Jay Gatsby), Domenic Del Greco (Nick Carraway), Louise Wiest (Daisy Buchanan), Jesie T. Montanye (Jordan Baker), and Nick Kikola (Tom Buchanan). The supporting cast includes Casey Conrad-Medvis (George Wilson), Krista Lamb (Myrtle Wilson), Duryea Gette (Mrs. McKee), David Strazisar (Chester McKee/Cop), Michael Weiss (Meyer Wolfsheim), and Erica Krenn (Mrs. Michaelis).
Daugherty, in the title role, does a great job of portraying the enigma that is Jay Gatsby. He has a strong presence on the stage. He pulls the audience into his melancholy and makes us feel sorry for him. Wiest is perfect as Daisy. She’s flighty and sad and looking for excitement. Wiest does an excellent job of presenting this character. Kikola makes a wonderful brute. He’s dark, angry, and mean. But somewhere in all of that, you can tell that he loves his wife. Lamb plays a frustrated lower class mistress with flare. She gets the audience to really feel for her character. Montanye plays her no nonsense character well. Weiss, who only spends a few minutes on the stage, manages to make the audience wonder what his story is. His delivery piques curiosity while he remains mysterious.
Despite the name of the play, the main character is Nick Carraway. Del Greco does a phenomenal job with his character. As much as Nick wants to fit in, Del Greco shows us that he’s uncomfortable with his new friends through his delivery as well as facial expressions and posturing. You can see him relax around Gatsby and tense up again around the other characters. As the narrator of the story, he balances telling and showing the audience what’s going on with ease.
The direction is straightforward and works well. The costumes and wigs are wonderful. I want a flapper dress now. The set is minimal but appropriate.
Some problems with the show include technical difficulties with the microphones and lighting that was appropriate for the mood but a little too dark at times. In addition, some scene changes were a bit odd. At times the scenes changed behind the characters without them moving. But if you don’t spend time worrying about how they got there, it won’t really phase you. Finally, the face projected onto the back of the stage is disconcerting. It is an important part of the book, but it’s not really mentioned in the play which can leave audience members who are not familiar with the story a little confused.
Having said that, let me tell you that this is a performance worth seeing. It’s not an uplifting show (it’s not supposed to be), but it is very well done. The Great Gatsby runs through March 23. For more information and tickets call the Erie Playhouse box office at 814-454-2852 or go online to www.erieplayhouse.org.