Sunday, July 16, 2006

‘Gatz’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ Vie for Broadway Stages:

There have been more versions, of course, including a 1926 Broadway play, which ran for four months, but it’s safe to say that none have been as boldly experimental as “Gatz,” produced by Elevator Repair Service, a beloved downtown stalwart whose collaborative shows often include found text, high technology and a brainy, subversive sense of humor. When he began working on “Gatz,” John Collins, the bookish artistic director of the troupe and director of the show, confronted the thorny question that every person who adapts a novel into a play must face: What to cut?

Since the book is so tautly written, Mr. Collins and his associate director, Steve Bodow, had trouble figuring out an answer until they came up with a radical idea: keep it all, every “and,” “he said” and punctuation mark from the 1995 Scribner paperback edition. At six and half hours, including three intermissions, “Gatz” is one of the most faithful adaptations in the history of theater. Falling somewhere between a reading and a conventional play, it is certainly an unusual theatrical experiment, but not unprecedented.

In a routine that has grown legendary, the comedian Andy Kaufman, a longtime inspiration for the company, was known to walk onstage at a comedy club, take out a copy of “The Great Gatsby” and read chapter after chapter until his bored audience walked out in revolt. The difference is that “Gatz” is not a stunt and audiences have not only been staying in their seats but raving about it later.

After seeing an early workshop in January 2005, Oskar Eustis, the Public Theater’s artistic director, immediately wanted to produce it. “It preserves something you almost never see onstage, which is the novelist’s voice,” he said. Mark Russell, one of the most experienced and well traveled downtown producers, said it was the best show he had seen last year.

“Gatz” has been on the international avant-garde circuit, earning good reviews in Brussels and Amsterdam over the last few months. But despite the encouraging notices and adoring producers, New Yorkers will not get to see this production — at least not in the near future. Out of courtesy to another version of “The Great Gatsby,” the F. Scott Fitzgerald estate barred Elevator Repair Service from presenting “Gatz” in its hometown.

3:33 PM