Bloomington's Professional Theater Company

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HT: Marriage, social class and unattainable dreams clash in ‘The Great Gatsby’

Connie Shakalis | H-T Reviewer

Sunday, September 8


The unattainable can be awfully attractive.


This is one of the messages from “The Great Gatsby,” a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald that was turned into a play by Simon Levy. Unattainable, too, is keeping Fitzgerald’s heart-rending prose, because one must use dialogue only. Too much is lost in transition from pithy novel to a stage production where the characters must mostly sit around conversing.


Stage direction, however, by Cardinal artistic director Kate Galvin, saves the show from being as vapid as the goals of America’s upper class in the 1920s. Galvin, dressed for the night in sequins and other sparkles, not only gave one of her liveliest curtain speeches Saturday evening, but set the tone for the story to come: post World War I “West Egg” nouveau riche struggling to claim a place among the established, “East Egg,” old-money families. Galvin was not alone in her glamor. Cardinal’s managing director Gabe Gloden and many of the audience members had also taken care to dress the part, making the evening special in a town and era where leggings and T-shirts are the norm.


Although I wouldn’t have chosen this play to produce, given the pared down narrative Galvin had to work with, she directed beautifully, keeping my eyes moving, the characters flowing and the setting lovely to see. I wish there had been more opulence — those Long Island mansions are phenomenal works of over-the-brim lavishness. And, I yearned for more distinction between the costumes for Fitzgerald’s gaudy lower class of West Egg and his tasteful, conservative attire for the upper class snobs, Daisy, Jordan and Tom. This, after all, is a story about class distinction and our desire to climb the equality ladder and close the door behind us on our (less equal) fellows. It’s a story of arrogance and incautious choices, of self-aggrandizement and social climbing. Of behaving with abandon and letting our friend take the fall.


Once again, Jay Hemphill, here as Nick, Daisy’s upper-class cousin from the respectable Midwest, shone. If his acting ever disappoints me, he will fall from the pedestal upon which I have unfairly put him. Nick is the heart of the plot and its voice of reason. There was nary a moment when Hemphill did not convince me he was thoroughly unmodern Nick.


Nearly as believable was Gatsby himself was a golden-voiced and -haired Michael Bayler. Gradually we learn, mostly from his confiding in quiet, good listener Nick, who this mysterious and monied Gatsby is. His weekly parties overflow with top shelf scotch and iced caviar, as he greets his socially aspiring guests — wearing a pink suit. At one point, he shows off his many multicolored shirts (Fitzgerald loads the novel with symbolism) to Daisy in an attempt to impress. Unfortunately, he never understood that old money is not taken with pomp and frivolity — and lots of shirts — but with the names of one’s grandparents.


In small but powerful performances were Tom Slater as nouveau riche Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby’s shady colleague, and Liam Castellan as a loyal, grieving and never good enough husband. Also, Slater’s choreography was one of the show’s high points, the period being the roaring ‘20s jazz age. Trevor Lyons was an effective Tom, macho but bigoted husband to Daisy (Courtney Lucien).