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The Great Gatsby evokes the "Jazz Age" at OCT, through March 22.

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The Great Gatsby evokes the "Jazz Age" at OCT, through March 22.


The Great Gatsby evokes the "Jazz Age" at OCT, through March 22.

Simon Levy's stage adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby plays at Oregon Contemporary Theater at 194 West Broadway in Eugene from Feb 28 through Mar 22.

A representative Art Deco set by Steen V. Mitchell, green walls that might be polished stone, symmetrical, parallel borders with nested curved corners, with a "starry" floor that might be marble or granite greets the patron on entrance. (One architectural curve was lit with recessed rope lights - a nice effect that could have been applied to several other deco lines and curves; perhaps the set budget had hit its limit.) Locale clues for the various scenes relied heavily on projected images against the back wall; New York City scenes (including period views of Central Park), Long Island mansions, and such. The show employed special effects projections especially in the finale to good effect; without revealing spoilers, the water effect for the pool surface on the floor was arresting, and the confrontation and it's aftermath and the special visual effects that supported that made me sit forward on the edge of my seat.

Steve Coatsworth brings a steady sensibility to the role of the narrator, Nick Carraway, who sees the romantic drama between Gatsby's clinging to the past in a world that has moved on, and Daisy Buchanan's (Shannon AJ Coltrane) flattered temporary susceptibility, but ultimate material pragmatism that trumps Gatsby's suit, from an "objective" perspective that thins as he is drawn into their world, and his summer fling with Jordan Baker (Katie Worley), the professional cynic and tennis player. Katie delivers the most convincing, intriguing, and fully realized performance of the talented cast. Daisy is played very thin, almost transparent; I could not hear the suggestion of either melody or "the sound of money" in her voice. Perhaps the directorial tactic is to underscore that deception extends to self-deception in the characters; Daisy's voice is unmistakably musical - a siren song - to Gatsby, unmistakably "money" to others - whatever that might mean, privilege? boredom? a prima donna certainty that her wealth makes her beautiful? - they bring what they hear to the table; we the audience are not so deceived.

Tony Stirpe plays Daisy's husband, Tom Buchanan, brash, uninhibited, physical, potentially violent, with the recklessness of privilege and status of the untouchably rich. Tom Wilson delivers the role of George Wilson as a studied character role that is broad but avoids caricature, successfully evoking empathy with his tragedy, another treat of a performance. Sarah Clausen's Myrtle Wilson is also a broad performance in a similar vein, with similar success, with a stage-brooklyn accent that underscores her "common" lower-class-tramp status, a gullible bimbo swept off her feet by Tom's "you can't say no" machismo. Tom takes her because he can, and flaunts her because he can.

Jay Gatsby (Andrew Beck) is an enigma before his rather late appearance in the show, perhaps even more so after, as who he really is and what he's really done is called into question by both rumor-mill gossips and seeming self-contradictions from the horse's mouth himself. Jay wants the romance and loyalty from Daisy that he believes he missed and that rightfully should be his. Daisy is persuaded … almost persuaded … but then …

Everyone, even eventually Nick, seems to have a front of pretensions and persona, except perhaps Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who though not particularly admirable characters, are "to the manor born" and above any need, or even any overhead, to be pretentious. At the end of it all, one thinks of Tom and Daisy that "they understand each other; they deserve each other."

The tone of Fitzgerald's novel, cynical, disenchanted, simultaneously jealous of and distrustful of the especially privileged, is a nutrient soil for the later works of noir classics of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Jim Thompson. But there is a hidden subtext of uncorrupted decency and humanity in the nearly invisible framing of the story; Nick has a temporary "city job" - as a bond broker apprentice, apparently, though how or when he does that is, I suppose, irrelevant - he has come from the midwest, where everybody knows your name, and he is returning to it in the end, and abandoning the pretension, deception, selfishness, and tragedies of the wicked metropolitan northeast society culture. The story is a window into the supposed decadence of the rich-and-famous, but resolves itself as a moral tract opposed to the lures of that decadence.

Tickets for The Great Gatsby are available through Oregon Contemporary Theater's website, and at the "box office" in the theater's lobby, at 194 West Broadway, Eugene, Oregon.


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