When F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz-age novel The Great Gatsby debuted in 1925, it was met with mixed reactions. Critics dismissed it as a novel for the season, a light, fluffy throwaway romance about first world problems. Turns out ol’ F. Scott’s book about lost love, psychotic passion, false identities and the pursuit of the American dream was a thing of genius, becoming part of our country's literary bloodstream with its timeless message of reaching out for what you want. It’s been dubbed the Great American novel and adapted for the screen and stage a number of times, including a play that opens Friday, September 11 at The Kaleidoscope in Downtown Houston.
Like the titular character, it was the idea of chasing after a dream that spoke to the play’s director, Colton Berry. “Gatsby has this undying pursuit of his passions. That’s always hit me pretty hard, being a starving artist and all,” he says. "Theater is my 'Daisy.'"
For those who are (inconceivably) unfamiliar with the book, Gatsby is told by a young guy, not quite 30—Nick Carraway. He's remembering the year he left the midwest to make his way in New York City and how he befriends his neighbor, the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who used to be a poor farm boy but has now made it big. Across a little inlet from these two bachelors is Nick's cousin, Daisy, and she's the actual reason Gatsby's there; he's been in love with her for years. The burgeoning friendship of Nick and Gatsby sets the drama in motion and the story turns into a Greek tragedy of sorts with a pile-up of bodies and broken dreams.
Gatsby has been somewhat of a passion project for Berry. After reading the book in high school, Berry became hooked, reading the novel in one night and starting down his own road of artistic obsession. “There’s something so glamorous about this era…We are connecting with it now more than ever with prohibition bars, craft cocktail spots and deco galas.”
In his version of The Great Gatsby, Berry brings the focus back to the drama and characters, rather than dolling up the stage or costumes with flashy décor most people connect with the book or the dizzying, polychromatic, hip-hop-filled film adaptation from 2013. “These characters are so lush, so complicated,” notes Berry.
Set on a revolving stage, scenes bleed into each other like one giant spinning dream. A team of dancers Charleston, foxtrot and box-step in nearly every scene, keeping the party aspect the book is known for raging throughout the play.
Amid the choreographed scene changes and bleeding heart romance injected in the story, it’s the simple idea of going after what you want that continues to settle on Berry. “The very first time I had the cast in a room together we ended up having a three-and-a-half-hour conversation about why this story is so entertaining after all these years. We went over why it’s still relevant and we all landed on the romanticism of the American dream,” he says. “It was this time period that really changed the way we lived as a nation.”
The Great Gatsby. Sept. 11–27. $35-40. The Kaleidoscope, 705 Main St. 832-817-8656. bayoucitytheatrics.com