The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel written by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald, which follows a cast of characters living in the fictional town of West Egg, on prosperous Long Island during the summer of 1922. The story primarily concerns the young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his quixotic passion for the beautiful former debutante Daisy Buchanan. Considered to be Fitzgerald’s greatest novel and an American Classic, The Great Gatsby explores themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and excess. Thereby creating a portrait of the Jazz Age and Roaring Twenties, that has been described as a cautionary tale regarding the American Dream. The adaption of this iconic novel by Simon Levy brings the humor, irony, pathos and loveliness of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic to the stage. Navigate the languid atmosphere of wealth and privilege with Nick Carraway, as he observes the glittering, elaborate parties of his neighbor, the infamous and illusive Jay Gatsby. But, observation is just an invitation to being sucked into the craziness that will engulf him, and change him forever.
The main events of the novel take place in the summer of 1922. Nick Carraway (James Rankin) serves as the novel’s narrator. He rents a small house on Long Island, in the (fictional) village of West Egg, next door to the lavish mansion of Jay Gatsby (Kyle Carthens), a mysterious millionaire who holds extravagant parties but does not participate in them. Nick drives around the bay to East Egg for dinner at the home of his cousin, Daisy Fay Buchanan (Rebecca Moseley), and her husband, Tom (Aaron D. Elersich), a college acquaintance of Nick’s. They introduce Nick to Jordan Baker (Sidney Perelman), an attractive, cynical young golfer with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. She reveals to Nick that Tom has a mistress Myrtle Wilson (Cassandra Mears).Not long after this revelation, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle to an apartment they keep for their affair. At the apartment, a vulgar and bizarre party takes place. It ends in violence.
As the summer progresses, Nick eventually receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. Nick encounters Jordan Baker at the party, and they meet Gatsby himself. Through Jordan, Nick later learns that Gatsby knew Daisy from a romantic encounter in 1917 and is deeply in love with her. He spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dock, across the bay from his mansion, hoping to one day rekindle their lost romance. Gatsby’s extravagant lifestyle and wild parties are an attempt to impress Daisy in the hope that she will one day appear again at Gatsby’s doorstep. Gatsby now wants Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy. He does. They begin an affair. Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanan’s’ house, Daisy speaks to Gatsby with such undisguised intimacy that Tom realizes she is in love with Gatsby. Though Tom is himself involved in an extramarital affair, he is outraged by his wife’s infidelity. He forces the group to drive into New York City and confronts Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza Hotel, asserting that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby could never understand. In addition to that, he announces to his wife that Gatsby is a criminal whose fortune comes from bootlegging alcohol and other illegal activities. Daisy realizes that her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom contemptuously sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attempting to prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him.
When Nick, Jordan, and Tom drive home, they discover that Gatsby’s car has struck and killed Tom’s mistress, Myrtle. Nick later learns from Gatsby that Daisy, not Gatsby himself, was driving the car at the time of the accident, but Gatsby intends to take the blame anyway. Myrtle’s husband, George (Joseph Milan), falsely concludes that the driver of the yellow car is the secret lover he recently began suspecting she has, and sets out on foot to locate its owner. After finding out the yellow car is Gatsby’s, he arrives at Gatsby’s mansion, where he fatally shoots both Gatsby and then himself. Nick stages an unsettlingly small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to the Midwest, disillusioned with the Eastern lifestyle.
Currently presenting this soiree into decadence is Ensemble Theatre, with a production directed by Ian Wolfgang Hinz. My first impression of the space was one of intrigue, with the stage being separated into 5 audience sections, bathed in a black, grey and white color scheme that represented the black tie underbelly of the piece. But, as I recall the performances in this play, there are a few that stand out. The fact that just a few stand out is due to the much underplayed direction that haunts this production. There are also off technical aspects to this production. Some of the projections, that are used to create scenic locations are crooked, or off the screen. The music is out of balance by using current songs redone in a 20’s style, the recognition of what the song is, brings you out of the era. Tainted Love does not take me to the West Egg of this story. There are many dead transitions that create dull energy. Mr. Hinz is the designer for all of them. So the actors seem to be on their own to create their individual energy and presence.
Succeeding in the journey are actors that left an impression. Rankin handled Carraway with a great charm and innocence. Incredibly likeable. His transitions from Narrator to character were beautifully executed. And provided a good eye to the storm. Elersich provided great masculine energy to the proceedings. Working the Alpha male personae, it was easy to think he was a jerk for being misogynistic bully. He brought great truth and confidence to each of his scenes. Mears was a fantastic hot mess of energy and kinetic chutzpah. Her drive was compelling, and memorable. Milan was a very impressive addition to this cast. Fabulous energy and resolve to even the simplest of scenes. And providing a journey that was heartbreaking to watch and unfold. Excellent work. A shout out to the Aerial Artist Rhian Virotsko. Beautiful work on the drapes. I certainly almost lost my breath a couple of times, and I usually only do that when I hear “Dinner is ready!” The rest of the cast are good, but I just didn’t feel the characters were alive enough to hold my attention, or leave that theatrical characterization that stay with you.
The costume design had its problems as well. There were suits that didn’t fit, which surprisingly included Gatsby. The women certainly fared well, but having the extravagance cultivator in clothes that looked too small, did not help Carthens create his character’s omnipotence. Lighting Designer Andrew Eckert did a good job with scene changes and mood shifts. Stage Manager called a good show.
As the production heads into the second weekend, a tightened space and creative tweaks will certainly enhance the production, that reveals one of the most classic American stories in our treasure chest.
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$12-$22 General Admission
2843 Washington Blvd
Cleveland, OH 44118