CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – With the glitz and glamour of Baz Luhrmann’s recent film adaptation of The Great Gatsby it may seem hard to believe a stage adaptation can be done better. Much better. Writer Simon Levy is a key reason this is possible; his script distills the very essence of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s finest novel in ways two film scripts did not.
Then, of course, there is the acting and the direction. The play, which runs at the Roxy Regional Theatre through Nov. 23, brings back some of the professional actors that audiences have seen in other Roxy performances. They have performed in everything from comedies to drama on the Roxy stage, but they have yet to draw from such a deep well. With this script, and the deft direction of the Roxy’s John McDonald, they get their chance.
The Great Gatsby is at times painful to watch – and that is what it should be. Levy’s script brings to life the best of Fitzerald’s dialogue. This renders each character more lifelike and gives the actors powerful lines to render. Even smaller roles, such as Jake Jessup’s as the mechanic George Wilson, engross the viewer. Jessup delivers a convincing Queens accent and the body language of a dolt, but he brings out the sincerity of this man who is unfortunately drawn into the boozy web of the Buchanans.
Ah, the Buchanans, that golden couple upon whom the sun has always shined. McDonald has cast a fabulous couple of actors as this reckless duo: Michelle Foletta as Daisy dynamically conveys the champagne lightness that this character shines upon others despite her utter self-absorption. Since Daisy is a character many believe is one of the more despicable in American literature, embodying her charms is key in an actress.
Then there is the tall, blond and handsome Michael Spaziani as Jay Gatsby, the dapper millionaire. Spaziani has hit the Roxy stage in a wide range of roles, and his Gatsby rounds them out. His lovemaking to Daisy is tender, while his confrontations with Tom are frighteningly cold. We do believe he is a man who waited years to recapture Daisy’s love – and we believe, equally, that this is a man who may have killed a man, as rumored.
We assume the narrator, Patrick Roberts’ Nick Carraway, is in the know, being a Midwestern cousin of Daisy. But he is the innocent of the piece, and Roberts portrays him with farm-fresh guilelessness and an easy smile. He convincingly becomes the play’s moral compass.
Then there is Myrtle Wilson, a character who could be brought to life as the ridiculous stereotype of the other woman. But actress Ashley Harris does something extraordinary: She brings soul to the role of the low-class girlfriend. My favorite moment, one that seems tragically pathetic, is when Myrtle makes up her “list of all the things I gotta get.” Despite her gaudy clothes and screeching accent, I felt sorry for Myrtle. She – like the other characters – thinks money will buy her happiness. But unlike the others, Myrtle aims low. And the audience knows she has no real chance of ever achieving her goal, even if she is utterly blind to that fact.
Even the supporting actors of this play are interesting to watch. Jay Doolittle inhabits Mr. Gatz with a sad pride, Jacque Clydesdale brings out the whip-smart sass of Jordan Baker and Leslie Greene gives audiences a good laugh as Lucille McKee.
The Great Gatsby is an excellent production. At times its revival of the Jazz Age will simply enchant audiences; at other times it will break their hearts as these characters find ever more speedy ways of ruining their own lives and those of others.
The Great Gatsby continues through Nov. 23 at the Roxy Regional Theatre (100 Franklin St.) Performances take place at 8 p.m. Nov. 15, 16, 22 and 23; there is a 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 16. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for those 13 and younger. They may be purchased at the Roxy box office at 100 Franklin Street, which is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays, or at the door the day of the performance. They may also be ordered online at www.roxyregionaltheatre.org. For more information call (931) 645-7699.
*Photos by Karen Parr-Moody courtesy the photographer and Roxy Regional Theatre.