About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Is the most exciting new play in New York...a book?

Any of us who went to drama school probably had the following phrases pounded into our heads: "don't play it safe", "take risks", "try something different", etc. However, risk-taking theatre doesn't tend to put butts in seats. Look at the state of Broadway--after Sept. 11, a ton of shows closed, because it suddenly felt inappropriate to have fun. Then two years ago the stock market crashed, and no one could afford to have fun.

Broadway producers are playing it safe, which is why you're seeing so many musical versions of well-known films and jukebox musicals. This way, it's not a risk for audience members to spend so much money on a ticket to a show they may not like, because they're already familiar with the movie or the music.

So, in this climate, would people want to sit in a room for six hours and watch someone read The Great Gatsby from beginning to end?

Apparently the answer is "yes", because the entire run of Gatz! by the Elevator Repair Service is completely sold out.

I won't bother summarizing the show myself when someone else can do it better: this is from Charles McGrath's Sept. 28 review in the New York Times:

 "A MAN sits down at a gray metal desk one morning and tries to boot up a computer from the Flintstone age, one with a screen that looks like an old cathode-ray TV set. Nothing happens, so he pulls out a paperback and begins to read aloud. ...Slowly, over half an hour or so, the man in the office (Scott Shepherd) starts to become interested in what he’s reading. Pretty soon he’s doing the voices...And then, miraculously, people who have been silently coming in and out of the office, going about their workaday business, begin to imitate the characters, speaking the lines and even acting them out."

"It’s more a dramatization of the act of reading itself — of what happens when you immerse yourself in a book...This, or something like it, is what happens when you get caught up in a book. You hear it in your head, and it takes over your waking existence a little, so you can’t wait to be done with whatever you’re doing and immerse yourself in the pages again."

Obviously, I am not in New York, and can't see the show myself. But it's really caught my attention because:
a) it's a risky concept that not everyone will be able to get behind
b) it's been glowingly reviewed
c) people can't stop talking about it

In regards to the latter point, I'm seeing articles about this show popping up all over the place. Clearly, this show gets people thinking (and talking). If you scroll down to the "comments" at the bottom of the articles (which I should NEVER do, because they usually just make me angry), you'll find audience members who were bored, or couldn't make it all the way through. That's one of the things I love the most about experimental theatre: sometime the experiments work, and sometimes they don't. Some people think it's stupid, some people think it's awesome.

But the existance of the show itself makes a great point about translating something that was meant to be written in to something that's made to be watched. There's a reason why many beloved books are difficult to successfully turn into plays or films (no film version of The Great Gatsby has ever been very well received)--because there's something to be gained in the reading of them. There's more to a book than dialogue, it's the poetry or rythm of the author's voice, the way he or she describes the character's reactions or thought process. If not done well, that magic all gets lost in the translation from written to visual mediums.

So maybe these Elevator Repair Service guys are on to something: the best way to adapt a beloved work is not to adapt it at all.

For Further Gatz! Reading:
The Boston Globe review from last January
Charles McGrath's New York Times Review
Ben Brantley's New York Times Review

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