Robrt Pela: Review of The Great Gatsby

April 06, 2012

Theater critic Robrt Pela reviews Arizona Theatre Company’s production of The Great Gatsby.

It takes some real work to make a brilliant and beloved piece of literature into a potboiler, but Arizona Theatre Company has done it. The state theater’s production of The Great Gatsby is elegantly lit on a gorgeous set, and costumed and acted within an inch of its life. It is also a soulless snooze.

The story, so elegant and atmospheric on the page, has been reduced to a theatrical Cliffs Notes version of Fitzgerald’s tale of the misguided love affair of Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby. And so what shines most brightly here is not the iconic literary hero we know and love, but director Stephen Wrentmore’s showy – and oddly fulfilling – theater tricks. IN one scene, a giant armoire filled with pastel Arrow shirts diverts our attention from playwright Simon Levy’s inert dialogue; in another, a beautifully staged duet is danced by the leads: Daisy with Gatsby; Tom with his slatternly lover.

The cast is consistenly strong, and several performances are standouts – most notably Zachary Ford as our narrator, Nick, who radiates boyish charm and, as he watches heroes fall, genuine sorrow. Monette Magrath is an affectingly coy Daisy, and Sofia Jean Gomez channels a vampish Louise Brooks as Jordan Baker. But the success of any stage or screen version of Gatsby sits squarely with the fellow playing the title character, who must play man as irresistible myth. And while David Andrew Macdonald gives a forcefully restrained performance as Jay Gatsby – calm, logical and rational – he’s just not special enough, or frankly young enough, to enchant us.

Playwright Simon Levy’s carefully crafted version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous story of Jazz Age socialites was approved by the Fitzgerald estate. Perhaps because the show begins and ends with the first and final lines of the novel, or because it’s such a thorough distillation of the book. But nothing – not the fine acting by a strong cast nor the flashy production tricks that come between those two lines of text – can elevate this quietly banal version of a great American novel.


The Great Gatsby continues through April 8. Robrt Pela’s theater reviews appear each week in the New Times.