"Gatz" is epic.

And you don’t need special glasses to see it in 3D.

In this American Repertory Theater event, broken into two parts that can be viewed in a single day or over two, the innovative New York-based company, Elevator Repair Service, is staging every word of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby."

Without spectacle, they tell you the story—and it’s riveting. Rather than touring you through one vision of "Gatsby," what they offer is more like the endlessly yielding raw materials, with some guideposts, to make your own version along with them and a roomful of strangers.

"Gatz" is set in a dingy office/warehouse with outdated equipment. It’s an atmosphere familiar as a slaughterhouse of the imagination, but it will prove a useful place to think about the central questions of "Gatsby," questions about the meaning and the power of wealth in America, about why we pursue it and what we come to think of those who attain it.

A conservative-looking office drone (Scott Shepherd) sits down at his desk and when his computer fails to switch on, he picks up a novel with which he seems unfamiliar, and starts reading it aloud.  At first his co-workers and even his boss (Jim Fletcher) try to ignore him. It’s as if he’s mumbling at his computer, or he’s left his radio on a touch too high—but slowly, subtly at first, as he gets more and more engaged in dramatizing the story with his voice, its elements start to take shape in the environment around him. Ever so casually, a supporting cast beings to materialize.

The result is an interlocking three-fold drama. There is Fitzgerald’s novel itself with it’s powerful rhythms, keen epigrams, rich imagery and dry wit, and there is the drama of our narrator coming out of his shell as he grapples with "Gatsby" for the first time.

Then, there’s the meta-drama. What is happening in this office? Are this man’s co-workers joining in his eccentric activity—or are we seeing the workings of his imagination, using the resources around him, discordant as they may at first seem, to flesh out the characters Fitzgerald’s words outline?

It’s a clever framework and keeps the play afloat. You can choose to focus on any of these dramas, or switch back and forth throughout the plays long run-time, and each is dynamic.

By the end, it is evident that our narrator is a changed man, in the way that anyone is changed after reading a rich novel, deeply. He is a man who has walked in Nick Carraway’s shoes. He’s traveled from the Middle West to the seat of power in the East, gotten mixed up in bonds and sloshed with the glittering and the sloppy. He’s ridden in fast-moving, poorly-steered cars and he’s navigated through poseurs, sodden impresarios, gangsters, athletes and beauty queens, into the thick of a noisy tragedy, and he has landed on the other side in a mood of grim contemplation, with a yarn that is unraveled but still fraught with tangles.

It is a long journey to take.  You will need stamina and resolve to take it with him. But "Gatsby" is, after all, a reflection and touchstone of the complicated American experience. It works well as a stage epic, especially told with so much humor, pathos, inventiveness, and skillful minimalism.

"Gatz" is directed by E.R.S.’s John Collins, with inspired sound design by Ben Williams, set design by Louisa Thompson, and lighting design by Mark Barton. It runs at the Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square through February 7.

About The Author

Jason Rabin is a Blast contributing editor

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