“An author ought to write for the youth of his generation. the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterwards.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1920.
Many people believe The Great Gatsby is the greatest American novel ever written. Great fiction can contain great social commentary. The 1920’s were a decade of possibilities and aspirations. America and the world were coming out of the War to end all Wars and everything seemed attainable. Yes, money could buy almost anything but society and respectability demanded a very different currency. James Gatz (Jay Gatsby) is the “self made man” American success story. Fitzgerald teases us all the way through the novel giving us bits of information about him but ultimately we still question what is fact and what is fiction.
I knew Simon Levy, the adaptor of this theatrical piece, when I lived in Los Angeles. We were in a Director’s group together along with about a dozen other directors from the area. We would meet maybe once a month and just talk shop and keep each other apprised of projects that we all were involved in or working on. In his Adaptor’s Notes for this play Simon suggests approaching the play the way you would a musical. After all, this is a memory, a dreamscape and his setting is a ‘landscape of sea and sky’. Characters, set pieces and sound and light appear and disappear in an impressionistic fashion. “This is a fable—of America, of the Jazz Age, of enchantment and illusions, of a world where love and dreams are pursued and betrayed.”
I came to this project as director very late, the show was cast, designers essentially in place and production dates set so apart from having read the novel I had very little prep time. I had no “concept” when all the artists involved gathered for the initial table read of the script. What I did have (I came to find out) were a group of actors who had spent the summer working together so there was a short hand already established among them. I was also working with a couple of collaborators in Jan Powell the Sound Designer/Musical Consultant and Rob Storrs (Projections/Visual Landscapes) whose work in the past I had greatly admired. And truth be told, anyone who really knows me is well aware of the fact that I am a collaborative director not an auteur! There is a wheel and we all are cogs in that wheel. It turns during the rehearsal process and the actors cogs are engaged. When we reach Tech week the Designer’s cogs engage and ultimately it spins the Director’s cog to the top and we pull everyone’s best work into full focus. Peter Brook once said that when you are rehearsing a play at the end of the night the good work you have done sticks to you and the rest falls to the floor and is swept away. So you come back the next day a little further down the path and begin again. That was the process we followed with The Great Gatsby. I have also had the great good fortune to be in communication with Simon who has offered encouragement and introspection along the way. In particular his comments about Daisy, “she is the brightly burning candle that all the moths are drawn to, quixotic, perhaps manic/depressive” infused the tone, mood and pacing of beats and scenes inside the text.