“Gatz,” the work of singular imagination and intelligence that opened Wednesday night at the Public Theater, chronicles one reader’s gradual but unconditional seduction by a single, ravishing novel. That novel happens to be perhaps the finest written by an American, “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 tale of pursuing the unattainable in the Jazz Age. And it is presented in its word-for-word entirety over the course of nearly seven hours by Elevator Repair Service,....But while this show, directed by John Collins, does full justice to the inherent and often startling drama in “The Great Gatsby,” what’s most purely dramatic about it isn’t in Fitzgerald’s plot. It’s in that elusive chemistry that takes place between a reader and a gorgeous set of sentences that demand you follow them wherever they choose to go. Think of it as a morning-fresh variation on an ancient theatrical formula: Boy meets book. Boy gets book. Boy becomes lost in book.
The romantic lead, portrayed by the astonishing Scott Shepherd, is in this case an ennui-laden, underworked fellow who, in the play’s opening scene, materializes in a shabby office that might as well have “dead end” on its door.
Waiting for a sluggish computer to start, this correspondingly sleepy-looking man finds a battered paperback lodged in an oversize Rolodex. Idly he opens the book and in a flat voice reads aloud, “In my younger and more vulnerable years ...”
Gatz is everything the review promises--which argues that a literal reading and enactment of the book is the way to go. And it certainly is one way to go. But after you've read the book, after you've seen Gatz, after you've absorbed the language and made it a part of yourself you can afford to trifle with it around the edges--like casting an all male "Taming of the Shrew" or doing the Mahabharata but setting it in Norway. Perhaps Hollywood can't live up to the challenge and will reduce Gatsby to the lowest common denominator of pseudo glitz, and will assume that the audience is as wedded to convention as the people who want Don Draper to "get the girl" and "be the hero." But maybe we will find this version of Gatsby to be pretty good on its own merits, like listening to a different arrangement of a familiar tune.