Sunday, June 17, 2012

Waiting for Mr. Gatz

I went to see Gatz on Friday.  For those who don't know, that meant that almost all of Friday was given over to the task - the show is more than 8 hours long (including a dinner interval).  For me, that's actually a bonus.  I've always been a fan of the massively long production: loved directing The Ring for the ENO, with the awareness that the rhythm of the show would be so very different from the quick hit, advert and tweet-length attention span we are normally expected to meet.  I love the meditational, dream-like quality of the lengthy theatre experience.  I love the way it changes the relationship between the performers and the public: I remember Tony Guilfoyle talking about performing in The Dragon's Trilogy, and saying that you just can't work with adrenaline in the same way as for a two-hour show.  It's a more mature process, somehow.

Andrew Haydon has done the honours on Gatz for the blogosphere with his insightful essay - so I'm not going to write about the whole show here, except to say that Andrew is right, and that the show is quite brilliant.   But I would just like to think a bit more about one character - Gatsby's father, Henry C. Gatz.  As Andrew puts it, "even Gatz's father, a tiny walk-on part, gets a whole actor to himself", and his slightly surprised tone is eminently justified.  By the third interval, I'd had plenty of time to peruse the programme, and I knew that, with only another hour and a half to go, in what is in many ways an ensemble production, one of the actors had yet to appear.  I also knew, from his programme photo, that this was the eldest actor in the company by some considerable way, and that he stated with pride that he  had "played the role of Henry C Gatz since 2005".

The play is called Gatz, rather than The Great Gatsby.  Like the dingy office setting and the deliberate metatheatricality of the whole undertaking, the change of title foregrounds the fact that everything about Jay Gatsby - certainly his wealth, his poise, and, as it turns out, even his name - is a fiction.  When Nick Carraway addresses Henry as "Mr Gatsby", he is told "Gatz is my name".  So, in a way, it is Henry who is the title character.  He finally arrives on stage seven hours into the production. Has any actor, let alone one in a title role, ever made a first entrance so far into a performance before?  Not even Godot can really match this.  And, in a way, Mr Gatz is rather like Godot.  Coming so late to the stage, he seems like a deus ex machina, particularly as he arrives not from the framing world of the office but from the auditorium - perhaps implying that the world from which the audience comes might yet throw Nick some kind of lifeline, that somebody might meet his forlorn desire to give Gatsby, in his solitary death, some element of justifiable mourning.  But, like Godot, Mr Gatz is a disappointment.  Very early in the book, Gatsby has told Nick that his family are "all dead now", so we already know that the old man was not somebody his son wished to put on show.  And this makes it even more pathetic that he should continue to hold such pride in Gatsby's wealth, that he should show Nick the evidence of Jay's youthful American dreaming, that he should blame the absence of mourners at the funeral on the weather.  It seems to me absolutely right for the Elevator Repair Service to give this "tiny walk-on part... a whole actor to himself."  His appearance, aged, dignified but deluded, at the end of the marathon, emphasises that here is yet another character outside the circle of charm.

In the programme, there's a quotation from the critic George Garrett, saying the characters in The Great Gatsby are "one and all outsiders".  I agree - but I would go further.  What the arrival of Mr Gatz seems to me to say is that everybody is an outsider, even the Father, perhaps especially him.  That there is no charmed circle.  That the American dream, the capitalist myth, the chimera of wealth, and anything we might want to call a Heaven, is by its very nature unattainable.  That the modern condition, which Fitzgerald so clearly foresaw, is one of endless and hopeless longing for the unattainable.

Huge thanks to the company and to LIFT for one of the most extraordinary productions I have ever been privileged to see.

No comments: