The Great Gatsby
By Simon Ley
Adapted from a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Directed by Anne Herring
Starring Buddy Haardt and Matthew Goodrich
Orlando Shakespeare Theater
Walk into this theater, and you might be walking into the Morse Museum. Art deco lighting fixtures, a marble swimming pool, and back lit Art Nouveau figures back lit with a blue glow, all in service of Fitzgerald’s tawdry tale of jazz age adultery. The American Dream shined brightly after WW1; prohibition was just a minor irritant and the entrepreneur class made alcohol and money easy enough to get. The stock market soared, our enemies were in ruins and high tariffs seemed like a good idea. Jay Gatsby (Goodrich) did OK bootlegging; he bought a mansion on exclusive West Egg Harbor in Long Island. Here he drafts the yet-to-be successful bond trader Nick Caraway (Haardt) to help him meet his long lost love Daisy (Katheryn Miller). Too bad she already has a husband, Tom Buchannan (Christian Ryan). Tom is no angel; he’s blatantly bonking Myrtle Wilson (Georgia Mallory Guy) who’s married to the local auto mechanic George (Jacob Dresch). Daisy Bucannon is torn: stick with her unfaithful husband or become unfaithful herself? Ennui and alcohol are a bad mix, and soon its one, two, three bodies on stage. There’s no room for true love here, only money gets any real affection. Nothing much has changed in the past hundred years, has it?
Despite the juicy sex, the splendid furniture, and the dead bodies, this is a rather bloodless production. Goodrich’s Gatsby is amiable and suave; to him everything is a laugh and even pursuing Daisy seems doomed. Nick sums him up beautifully: “He spoke as if there was money in his mouth…” Haardt’s Caraway is much stronger; yet he seems overwhelmed by the splendor of his position and you sense it’s all a temporary dream to him, a premonition played out by the final curtain. Miller’s Daisy often sounds like a Tennessee Williams heroine; she’s also lost and feeling her little control slip away. Ryan’s Tom was much more menacing; he’s slick and edgy and ready to do the violence implied in the echo of Southern Melodrama. But the man who sold the show was the not-too-bright George. His wife was cheating on him with Tom and was killed by Gatsby in an accident, and when he came on at the end to claim vengeance and justice, it was electric. I’ll also mention the pant-suited Jordan Baker played by Aubrey Saverino; despite all the sex floating around Gatsby, she was the one woman who came across as actually sexy.
With clever staging and fervent pace, this is a classy but not overwhelming story. The rotating stage from Les Misérables returned with a smaller diameter; it efficiently brought us props and people and yet never appeared obtrusive. Atmosphere is everything here; we are back in the roaring twenties with the roar damped down to let us see the lives of the unhappily wealthy. And as I’ve always held: money might not buy happiness, but it allows you to be unhappy in much nicer surroundings. And these are VERY nice surroundings.
For more information on Orlando Shakespeare Theater, visit http://www.orlandoshakes.org