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Gatz - A Worthy Marathon

Last night, we saw Gatz at the American Repertory Theater.  When you hear about Gatz, your first reaction may be "Huh?"  Other than a few murmurs and mumbles, the only spoken words during Gatz consist of the complete text of F. Scot Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  Most of it is read by Nick, the narrator of the novel.  But, the other characters speak their lines and act out their parts as it gets going.

What's interesting is that the play takes place in an office.  Nick finds a copy of the book and, when his computer doesn't work, starts reading the book aloud.  His coworkers barely seem to notice, but in short order start to join in by speaking the dialogue of their characters and acting out the descriptions in the text.  There really isn't a plot to the office portion of the play, but by their dress and actions, you figure out whos the boss, who's the IT guy, who's the maintenance guy, etc.

Gatz is performed in two parts, each with a separate admission.  You can see it all in one day, or break it into two days.  We saw it all in one day yesterday, but it was a marathon.  Part 1 started at 3 PM.  Part 2 didn't end until 10:50 PM!  There was an intermission during each part, and a one hour break for dinner.  The longest segment is the first half of Part 1, which is 2 hours long.  After that, the sections are between 1:10 and 1:25 long.

Despite the challenge of sitting in a theater for 6 1/2 hours out of an almost 8 hour stretch, the time zipped by.  You might tihnk that listening to a book being read would be tedious.  But, like the best audio books, the reading is done with fantastic expression.  Some of the language used to describe the characters is ironic, and this often gets laughs from the audience.  But, while listening to the text, you gain an incredible appreciation for the language used by Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby.  I hadn't read it since high school, but I enjoyed hearing every word.  In fact, as my friend commented, you wouldn't have wanted it edited at all.  It's a great piece of literature, and, since it is written as a narrative, it works very well to have a character read it aloud, even with the "he said" and "she said" descriptives.

We all agreed that it was better to see it all in one marathon rather than splitting it up between two days.  But, many people can't carve out this much time, or don't want to sit so much in one day.  So, I think it would still work when split up.  One thing you get by seeing the marathon is an appreciation for the hard work put in by the cast, particularly Scott Shepherd who plays Nick.  Shepherd reads the large majority of the book while also acting out the character of Nick.    Incredible effort.

A word on logistics:  The schedule is very tight.    The 10 minute intermission isn't sufficient for everyone to use the rest room, despite the best efforts of the staff and the repurposing of one men's room as a ladies room to accomodate the audience.  Make sure you use the rest room before the show starts and don't drink a liter of water on the way over to the show as my wife did!  If you need to use the rest room, and you will at some point, don't linger.  With such a long show, it's good that the ART staff keeps things on schedule.

Also, if you see both parts back to back, there is an hour break for dinner.  You can pre-order a box dinner at the theater, or make a special Gatz reservation at Upstairs on the Square.  We opted for the latter.  It was good to get out and stretch our legs.  But, the one hour is very tight to walk, eat, and walk back.  We were the first to make it to the restaurtant, the first to leave, and still only made it back with seconds to spare. 

Like every other production this season at the ART, Gatz is a must see.  You won't see anything else like it.  The novelty carries you into the flow of the show, and the strength of the plot and wonderful language of the work keeps you going all the way through.  At the end, we were tired, which you would expect from being intellectually engaged for hours and hours.  But, it was certainly worth the effort to really dig into one of the most important works of literature of the 20th century.

Check out this Gatz video which gives you a sense of the action.


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