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The Great Gatsby

  • Theater, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Joél Acosta (Jay Gatsby) in The Great Gatsby
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusThe Great Gatsby

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The audience joins the party in a new version of the classic novel.

Theater review by Adam Feldman 

“I like large parties,” says the breezy lady golfer Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby. “They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.” This is one of many lines that director Alexander Wright has retained in his immersive theatrical adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel. Having run for years in the United Kingdom, the production has now Lindy Hopped across the pond to set up shop at midtown’s Park Central Hotel—the very spot where mobster Arnold Rothstein, who inspired the book’s character Meyer Wolfsheim, was rubbed out in 1928. 

Set designer Casey Jay Andrews has transformed the hotel’s ballroom and multiple adjacent spaces to evoke the Art Deco glitz of Long Island arriviste Jay Gatsby’s bedeviled West Egg mansion; the atmosphere is enhanced by costumer Vanessa Leuck and lighting designer Jeff Croiter. Ten actors wander among the spectators, who are divided into groups and guided to different locations to watch side stories unfold, then periodically reassembled in the central space to witness important moments. Individual audience members may also be given particular roles to play; at one point, for example, I was tasked with helping Gatsby (a dashing Joél Acosta) change into a new suit behind a screen on the steps of the ballroom. I can’t say I understood what was happening or why, but I also can’t complain. 

The Great Gatsby | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

That was, grosso modo, my experience of this Gatsby as a whole. Unlike Elevator Repair Service’s epic Gatz, which staged the text of Fitzgerald’s novel in its entirety, Wright’s version is consumable only in bits and pieces; what you see of the story depends on where you happen to have been led. Unless you’ve recently read the novel, the effect is confusing: sketchy on plot and overstuffed with filler (including somewhat anachronistic songs and dances, less period than exclamation point). And while some of the performers manage strong characterizations—notably Rob Brinkmann as the troubled Nick Carraway and Claire Saunders as the hungry Myrtle Wilson—the literary gap between Fitzgerald’s words and those invented for this version can be distracting.  

Although the actors improvise well with the audience, the conceit of our presence in the action does not quite make sense: If large parties permit intimacy, as Jordan says, it’s because you can speak there without being noticed, not because you shout your secrets across a big room full of strangers. Yet The Great Gatsby can be an entertaining night out on the town if you think of it less as a play and more as a night of dress-up. Audience members are encouraged to attend in 1920s finery themselves, and at the performance I attended, most of them did. The ballroom serves drinks and stays open for dancing once poor Jay Gatsby has come to his shallow end. The beat goes on for those who ride the show’s current, eager to be borne back into the past.

The Great Gatsby. Park Central Hotel New York (Off Broadway). Adapted and directed by Alexander Wright. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. 

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The Great Gatsby | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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