F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is considered one on the finest books in 20 th century American literature. The production, adapted for the stage by Simon Levy, is a huge project for the Rockville Little Theatre to undertake. With a bit more spit and polish, Producer Nancy Blum and Director Deryl Davis will have a winner on their hands.
Set in the early 1920s, the play focuses on the decadence of the time and the underlying emotional emptiness. This emptiness is brought to the fore at Jay Gatsby’s (Andy De) funeral. No one, including his love Daisy (Elizabeth Keith), friends Meyer Wolfsheim (Michael McCarthy) and Nick Carraway (Kirk Patton, Jr.), and frequent partygoers at his mansion, attend.
The most emotionally vibrant scene in the production involves the grief of George Wilson, a garage owner (Michael Reilly) upon the violent death of his wife Murtle (Lena Winter) and the comfort offered the grieving Wilson by coffee shop owner, Mrs. Marchaelis (Yvonne Paretzky).
Tom Buchanan (Jeff McDermott), husband of the charming Daisy Buchanan, effectively shows his unbridled anger at both Daisy and the leading men surrounding him, Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway.
Daisy, loved by both Tom Buchannan and Jay Gatsby, is mainly ornamental except when angry at her husband. Her supposedly effervescent personality is seen only in a couple of very short dance numbers choreographed by Valerie Mikles. Daisy’s shallowness and self absorption is on display as she moves between her husband and Jay Gatsby depending on who will indulge her the most.
In contrast to Daisy, her good friend Jordan Baker (Jana Morgan), a well-known golfer, is full of life as she pursues Nick Carraway, an up and coming bond salesman. Nick, disillusioned by the emptiness of his life, returns home rather than pursuing Jordan or his career.
Partygoers Lucille McKee (Joy Gerst), Chester McKee (Frank Kesterman), Myer Woolfsheim, and other guests (Kelly Wilburn, Valerie Mikles, and Yevonne Paretzky) do their best to create a festive atmosphere. However, the stage is far too large for the small ensemble to fill the space adequately. I wish the set designer, David Levin, could find a way to use a hedge or fence to make the space smaller and the party livelier. Other times, when the action is focused on the front of the stage, the large space looming behind is not a distraction.
Costume Designer Laura W. Andruski does a fine job displaying the actors in clothing appropriate for the 1920s. She also makes class distinctions through costume choices. Choreographer Valerie Mikles is ambitious including many cast members in the short dance numbers. The choreography is wonderful for the energetic dancers; among them Daisy Buchannan, Jordan Baker, Tom Buchanan, and Nick Carraway. The less able dancers are distracting; perhaps they could be given simpler choreography and placed further back on the stage.
Not to be missed is Gatsby’s large bright yellow car designed by Nancy Enyon Lark and built by Peter Finkel. It provides a pop of color and humor as it is “driven” across the stage.
The Rockville Little Theatre’s production of The Great Gatsby effectively shows Fitzgerald’s central theme of the downside and emptiness inherent in pursuit of the American dream. As the performances continue, the talented team will become more natural and able to really dig into their characters.
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.
The Great Gatsby plays through October 11, 2015 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre at The Rockville Civic Center – 603 Edmonton Drive in Rockville, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online.