Gatsby’s Green Light Shines at The Clay Center
By V.C. McCabe
For the Gazette
The green light shone bright on The Clay Center’s stage Thursday evening as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” was brought to vivid life by the Montana Repertory Theatre.
Fitzgerald’s classic tale of the Jazz Age is often called “The Great American Novel” and I’m among its many devoted literary fans. It’s difficult to approach any retelling of such a beloved story without certain
preconceived notions about what does and does not constitute a successful adaption.
Playwright Simon Levy’s faithful interpretation of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is the only one authorized by the author’s estate. Levy expertly captures the wild, vintage atmosphere of Gatsby’s Roaring Twenties world and the timeless truth that all that glitters is not gold.
The real star of MRT’s production was John Shaffner’s stunning set, comprised of large window panes stretching from floor to ceiling with cracked frames, testifying to the play’s theme of decaying decadence.
The Wilsons’ grimy garage in the “Valley of Ashes” and Myrtle’s seedy apartment soiree were rendered as beautifully as Gatsby’s West Egg mansion and its infamously lavish, carnival-like parties.
Dazzling video slashed the gigantic panes with dancing silhouettes, Gatsby’s yellow car and Dr. T.J. Eckleburg’s creepy, peering billboard eyes as jazz music played in the background.
Also of note was Mark Dean’s subtle, effective use of light and color. As Gatsby’s hope turned to despair, the green light soured from a brilliant emerald to a dirtier, almost toxic shade.
The visual elements were so spectacular, they often overshadowed the action on stage and the cast seem to overcompensate by cranking up the melodrama as well as the volume. There’s a fine line between projecting and screaming, and several cast members stomped all over that line with every other word. None more so than actress Kelly Campbell, who gave the already vapid character of Daisy Buchanan an extra dose of irksome, manic shrillness.
Actor Mark Kuntz portrayed enigmatic, lovesick millionaire Jay Gatsby, whose starry-eyed optimism and “new money” wealth mask a man full of secrets and desperation.
Mason Wagner took on the role of the novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway, who serves as a kind of proxy for the audience. Awestruck by Gatsby’s luxurious life while cognizant of its hypocrisy, Carraway embodies the struggle between artifice and reality, particularly in the context of class distinction, that is the true heart of the story.
Carraway’s narration includes some of Fitzgerald’s best lines, including the novel’s last two gorgeous, poignantly poetic paragraphs: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
It’’s that unique juxtaposition of a circus bombast and heartfelt, literary sentiment that made a classic of “The Great Gatsby.” This particular stage production was a great success in recreating the story’s setting, but not its spirit.
© 2015 V. C. McCabe – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED