The book opens with…
In my younger and more vulnerable years
my father gave me some advice that I've been turning in
my mind ever since.
you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just
remember that all the people in this world haven't had the
advantages that you've had."
…and closes with:
So we beat on, boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly into the past.
The book is The Great Gatsby. And
I recently got to hear it read aloud in its entirety, in one
of the more compelling, unique and dynamic pieces of live
performance I have ever experienced. The elapsed time came
in at eight hours and fifteen minutes (3-11:15 pm) including
a few brief intermissions, and an hour and a half break for
Who? What? And most curiously, why?
The Elevator Repair Service is a
New York-based ensemble theatrical company, given to exploring
new challenges in live performance. One such challenge they
set for themselves, was to bring this novel to the stage,
and not the other way around. A critical distinction.
Their production is not a play based
on The Great Gatsby, but The Great Gatsby
itself—word-for-word, uncut! This is theater in praise
of the act (and art?) of reading. "Gatz" by the
way, as in James Gatz, is the legally given name of Jay Gatsby,
as we are told in Fitzgerald's narrative.
As the director John Collins explained in
a YouTube interview, the richness in the writing
of "Gatsby"—a prose so poetic and a story
told mainly via the insightful narration of a key character,
Nick Carraway — is such that it cannot be cut without
losing the power of this masterpiece.
In this production, Scott Shepherd, a little
known actor, plays that character while reading the entire
book aloud. His performance is perfect in pitch: simple, yet
with total command. And as it turns out, he wouldn't even
need to have book in hand, as he has long since memorized
The Great Gatsby in its entirety; all 47,094 words!
In fact, at the beginning of the final chapter, which is 19
pages long (Scribner Paperback edition), he puts the book
face down on a table to conclude the story; a sterling moment
all its own given its unexpectedness. And as I further learned
from that aforementioned interview, given any four consecutive
words from any part of the book, Shepherd can pick up the
narrative at that point, and go on without missing a beat.
Yet with all this dramatic reading and recitation—and
no other words are spoken that are not in the book—
there is also an inventive and exciting staging here at work.
It incorporates a sizable cast of thirteen actors, and the
springboard for their action, lies in a premise that would
at first blush seem random and counter to the exercise at
hand. But it turns out to be an inspired means to get to the
text. It goes like this.
Waiting for a sluggish computer to start in
some dusty, dreary office of some small undisclosed and unremarkable
business (circa: late 1980's?), a sleepy-looking man—the
first one in that morning—finds a paperback copy of
The Great Gatsby in an oversized Rolodex. He begins
to read it aloud and soon is consumed with it, to the point
where he can't put it down. Sheepishly, he looks up from time
to time, at his bored and boring-looking co-workers, who begin
trickling into the office one by one. They in turn steal glances
back at him with some puzzlement and curiosity, as they silently
go about their business.
In time, they will all slowly begin to morph
into the various characters in the book. And that begins startlingly,
when one office worker over by a file cabinet, in becoming
Tom Buchanan, blurts out the first words not said by the narrator:
"Don't believe everything you hear, Nick." And the
"play" is off and running. It is a marathon that
the audience will come to follow unflinchingly. I might have
heard at most, two or three of those restless "church
coughs" throughout this long day's journey into night.
In particular, the "choreography"
of the drunken-afternoon-at-The-Plaza scene, is a tour
de force all its own. And the juxtaposition of these
mundane office workers, taking on the glitz and glamor of
Fitzgerald's "jazz age," adds another interesting
theme that of course is not in the book.
I went to see it so that you won't have to.
Or will be unable to. Or have no OCD predilections to. Though
I say this all facetiously, as this is about paying homage
to a great piece of literature, not about endurance and stamina
or compulsion. Long after Gatz leaves the legendary
Joseph Papp founded Public Theater, The Great
Gatsby will remain. Forever accessible to all.
It was impossible for me, not to go back and
pick it up yet again, despite having read it three times at
various points in my life. It reminded me that while reading
does make special demands on our time, energy and focus, the
rewards are great. Though given the ever expanding roles of
visual communications, those rewards may no longer be so self
Yet one might make the argument that with
the growth of Kindles, Nooks and other eBook platforms, the
reading of good books will only increase, not diminish. One
would hope so. For when literary works are adapted, edited,
cut… something gets lost in the translation. A lot in
fact. Gatz brings this point home in dramatic fashion.
"It's Not Always Cancer"
—Dr. Uttam Sinha
Department of Otolaryngology, USC
Sometimes it's cancel, canker, canter,
If one is inclined to play in a sandbox of words.
Sometimes it's nothing. Though nothing
Carries a weight all it's own.
Nothing can be a something
As in a black hole that festers
Beneath the rind
Sucking life through a straw
If one dare probe deeply enough.
Yet dare one ignore?
According to science existence began
With a Big Bang born of nothingness.
From there came mortality
With its cheap commodity of time.
Followed or preceded by an immortality?
A rarer than never form of I?
Unless there is something after all
To those Greek and Roman gods
Channel surfing to check on the fray
Throwing their hate into the ring—
Cantankerous cusses in delirium are they.
Invasive when not given to non-intervention;
Rounders up of white cells in black hats
To battle the good guys oddly in red;
Promising some grapes of discomfort…
Delivering the whole vine of wrath.
Green-gowned and rubber-gloved
He slips into the room
God-like in his own but benevolent way
Just back from parting a red sea of blood.
Probing where a gag reflex lies in waiting,
He can quite put his finger on the problem.
As if a diving rod
It finds a fertile ground between
Nothing and Something:
A damage that can be easily mended.
"It's not always cancer," he states as if
Discussing the ripeness of fruit
Feeling his way about the troubled tissue.
His word made flesh—the spirit awakens
To roll away the stone.
Then out the evolving door it flies
Into heavy yet now negotiable
A Clark Encounter of
a Life Kind
With the passing of Dick Clark
last month at age 82, those of us of a certain age, could
not help but recall American Bandstand, the program
he hosted for many years beginning in '57. It was "must-see
TV" for a legion of teens, especially in those infant
days of rock 'n roll.
As a figurehead, he seemed the epitome of
"square." What with his black patent-leather hair,
and in suit and tie, he could have been for all the world
somebody's high school English teacher. Yet there he was,
promoting a new music genre, that would go on to become a
touchstone in our sociological history. For the first time,
teens would begin to establish an identity that wasn't just
an extension of their parents. They now had their own music.
And things would never be the same. And Dick Clark played
a major role in that development.
Later of course, he would become the American
face of New Year's Eve—an icon—in much the same
way Guy Lombardo (a Canadian), had previously been.
In an appraisal written by Stephen Holden in
The New York Times following Clark's passing, he
noted that: "A key to Mr. Clark's appeal was his utter
lack of grandiosity."
I got to witness that up close one time, upon
being invited— along with a number of other folks in
the ad biz—to a soiree at his house in Malibu. "House"
here, being an understatement of gigantic proportions. It
seemed the size of a grand hotel, with a boundless living
room serving as its elegant lobby. And situated oceanfront,
it was in touching distance of the waves rolling in just off
the veranda. Yet while the dwelling was grandiose, to echo
Mr. Holden, the man himself was not.
He greeted us warmly at the door and immediately
stated, that those ties we all sported back then, had to come
off immediately. It was time to "loosen up, relax, and
enjoy the evening." And despite being the consummate
man of business and a known workaholic, whose worth is in
the hundreds of millions, he seemed almost apologetic later
in conversation, when someone asked what might be a typical
day for him.
"I can get a lot done that way,"
he said when discussing how he worked the phone from the back
seat of his chauffeured car, on his way to the office each
morning. As this was 1983, the ubiquity of the cell phone
had not yet come to pass. And though now here we are in 2012,
most of us have the phone, but where is that ride?
I would then go on to have a private moment
with him that night, that is still so distinct after all these
years, despite how rather benign it all might seem.
How the conversation got started, I can't
recall, but he was telling me about his collection of Life
magazines. And when I showed a real interest (I have been
known to collect a few things myself), he took me to a room
downstairs that housed every issue of Life
ever published. It began with that first one of November 23,
1936, that was passed on to him by his grandmother. Grandma
would also pass on other Life's, and into adulthood,
his collection would continue.
As he slid out one of the custom made glass
panels built into the wall, here was that inaugural issue
It struck me how proud he was of his collection,
and how incongruous this all seemed. One would expect that
if one were to be made privy to any sort of collection by
a celebrity of that magnitude, it would be something along
the lines of original works by well known artists, a la Steve
Martin, or say in the case of Jay Leno, luxury cars. But here
I was, alone with Dick Clark and his Life magazines.
And despite all his wealth, you could sense that the value
to him of what lie within those sliding panels, was as they
Rest in peace Dick Clark (1929-2012)
Quote of the Month
Monica Pier, Santa Monica California April 18, 2012; photo
by Ron Vazzano ©
Damsels in This Dress
Not long ago, I happened upon the Museum
at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and a wonderful
exhibit entitled "IMPACT: 50 Years of the Council of
Fashion Designers of America." It traced the various
fashion trends by decade, with various exemplary attire on
view. The 1960's were described as a "Youthquake! A Fashion
Revolution." What else. For when one speaks of that era,
a descriptive of "revolution" is never far behind.
What caught my eye here in particular, was
an over the top Bob Dylan dress displayed in a plexiglass
case. I remember the 60's (despite the cliche that "If
you remember the 60's, you weren't there"), but I don't
remember that dress. It turns out to be made of paper no less
(no rhyme intended).
I remember the war, but fashion statements,
other than long hair, bell bottoms and tie dying, were not
on my radar. Maybe it's just a draft-board-breathing-down-your-neck-during-an-even-Walter-Cronkite-denounced-war,
guy kind of thing. So I snapped. A picture. And decided to
check it out further, so cool and funky, this garment.
A particularly helpful website noted that:
"The wonderful paper dress was a must-have
fashion item in the mid to late sixties. They were designed
by people such as Andy Warhol and featured icons such as
this Blonde On Blonde era black and white image of Dylan.
The paper dress (blended with other cellulose
material) was introduced by the Scott Paper Company in 1966
as a promotion tool for their range of paper towels and
coloured toilet paper.
The dresses became an instant success and
sold over half a million at around $1.50 each. (One of the
originals might now cost well over $1,200 according to another
on line source).
By 1968 the demand for this fashion fad had waned, and the
paper dress was discarded."
While all this is very informative, reports
on its demise are greatly exaggerated, as the damsels in this
dress might indicate.