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Strong acting, loathsome lives

Bag&Baggages Gatsby offers superbly acted view of morally vacuous lives


by: COURTESY PHOTO: CASEY CAMPBELL - Ian Armstrong plays a conflicted Nick Carraway in the Bag&Bagge production of The Great Gatsby.Bag and Baggage Theatre artistic director Scott Palmer can never be accused of taking the easy road, as he clearly demonstrates in his ambitious production of “The Great Gatsby” (adapted by Simon Levy from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel).

The production itself is beautiful, and the acting generally superb. However, the necessarily condensed format of live theater does not allow for a complete exploration of the story’s characters and themes, so the show may appeal most to an audience already familiar with (and fond of) the novel.

In order to cram the meat of “Gatsby” into two acts, Levy tells a somewhat expository, disjointed and episodic tale. Much of it is related by young Midwesterner Nick Carraway, off to make his fortune in post-WWI New York, who falls in with an extraordinarily vapid crowd of obscenely monied wastrels on Long Island.

Nick reunites his alluring but morally vacant cousin, Daisy Buchanan, with the mysterious Jay Gatsby (nee Jimmy Gatz), her pre-war Great Love who was thrown over for the incredibly wealthy Tom Buchanan. While Tom makes little effort to hide his own serial infidelity, he is less understanding when it comes to Daisy’s transgressions. Ultimately, everyone suffers except Daisy and Tom, who (in Fitzgerald’s words) “let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

From her first moment on stage, Cassie Greer (Daisy) creates a genuinely loathsome character. Her deliberately languid poses and delivery dripping with aristocratic ennui paint a clear picture of a hollow, completely self-absorbed and utterly useless human being. Colin Wood (Tom Buchanan) is equally loathsome; Wood’s burly physique and larger-than-life arrogance perfectly convey Tom’s entitled, alpha-male, competitive, white supremacist persona.

Perhaps the trickiest role is that of Nick Carraway (Ian Armstrong) because it is neither black nor white — neither victim nor oppressor, neither rich nor poor. Armstrong manages to convey Carraway’s ambiguous relationship to his cousin and her crew — simultaneously attracted, puzzled, and repelled by the lives they lead.

And then there’s Gatsby (Ty Boice). Boice clearly expresses Gatsby’s superficial charm and the hollowness of the Golden Boy character Gatsby has invented for himself. However, he misses the mark a little by underplaying Gatsby’s other side — the real Jimmy Gatz that he occasionally reveals to Nick — the wartime buddy and regular guy. This may be as much a function of the script as the actor.

Ironically, the only unambiguously innocent character is murderer George Wilson (Adam Syron). Syron does a fine job of portraying a baffled working-class victim of his wife’s infidelity and of Buchanan’s coldly mocking false promises.

Costume designer Melissa Heller has created beautiful, period-appropriate costumes, and the dock built out into the audience is a clever touch that nicely supports the illusion of unseen bay-front mansions.

A longer version of this review can be found at westsidetheatrereviews.blogspot.com




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