Diamonds in the rough

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  January 13, 2010

I was bothered by instances in which the text is abruptly, literally enacted for comic effect. And I missed a few things deliberately eschewed in the performances — notably Daisy Buchanan's much-invoked musical voice, which Gatsby described as "full of money." But there are strong, touching turns, particularly by the nimble, reflective Shepherd, by Jim Fletcher as the impassive yet ingratiating Gatsby figure at the adjoining desk, and by Gary Wilmes as a bristling stand-in for Tom. Moreover, the murmured routines of the dysfunctional workplace, even as they evaporate into the main event, serve to punctuate — and sometimes comment on — Fitzgerald's narrative.

Adding to the legend of Gatz, which has made the rounds from Brussels and Sydney to Chicago and Minneapolis but has yet to be seen in New York, is a five-year tug-of-war with the Fitzgerald estate, which shut down a 2005 workshop production that had created an underground buzz. The problem was that a stage adaptation of the novel by California-based Simon Levy was set to debut at the Guthrie Theatre and had Broadway aspirations. The situation has since been resolved, with rights granted just last month to the creators of Gatz, which will debut in New York next season. But the ART has the longest engagement so far for this mesmeric tour de force, which on weekends can be viewed in one stretch separated by a dinner break. It's a long haul but a thrilling one: a marriage of exquisite narrative and bare-bones theater that pulls The Great Gatsby's focus back from Jazz Age opulence to themes of fanatical yearning and the callousness of privilege. Put that in your Kindle and smoke it.

 GROUNDSWELL_GS8_main
GROUNDSWELL Timothy John Smith advises Richard McElvain on how to invest his money.

Call it Apartheid Buffalo. Ian Bruce's taut, menacing mesh of thriller and reconciliatory South African politics, Groundswell, recalls David Mamet's American Buffalo in its deft depiction of violence trumping humanity when small-timers get in over their entrepreneurial heads in pursuit of a prize. The play, which is in its area premiere courtesy of the Lyric Stage Company of Boston (through January 30), gives off a good bit of expository steam before laying bare wounds still festering on both sides of the black-white divide 16 years after official, intolerable racism gave way to Desmond Tutu's "rainbow nation." But what distinguishes Groundswell (which takes both its name and its coastal, bell-clanging atmospherics from the third of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, "The Dry Salvages") is its characters — each a blend of resentment, forbearance, self-justification, and a surprise up the sleeve — and the edgy sense that, as past injustice, present business opportunity, and a decidedly non-cutlery knife are brandished across the dinner table, anything may happen.

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