Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Burbage Theatre Company’s second show of their season is “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is their first show in their new location in Pawtucket. This classic novel from 1925 has been adapted for the stage by Simon Levy, it remains the evocative story of the pursuit of wealth and romance in The Jazz Age of the roaring 1920’s. Enigmatic self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby pursues the married, moneyed Daisy Buchanan as his party guests drink and Charleston their frenzied way of life at his opulent Long Island mansion.
The greed as evidenced by the surrounding consumerism and materialism is revealed through subtle and obvious class differences of old money, the newly rich and the working class that includes Tom Buchanan’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson. Fitzgerald discloses the careless callousness of the untouchable upper class with whom we are entranced as they literally get away with murder. This callousness of the upper class can still be witnessed in the latest tax reform bill passed by the Senate which proves the more things change, the more they stay the same. Director Wendy Overly casts the show perfectly and obtains riveting performances from her talented cast. The fabulous moveable set is by Trevor Elliot which changes from scene to scene and the incredible mood lighting is by Jessica Winward while the breathtaking 1920’s costumes are by Abigail Dufresne. The women’s gowns and Gatsby’s suits are astounding.
Wendy opens each act with superb dancing by the cast with the Charleston and Foxtrot moves. She also has Daisy sing “Has Anybody Seen My Gal” while strumming a small guitar. She makes her performers delve into their characters and they deliver nuanced performances both in the comic and dramatic moments which leave you laughing and electrify you when the unexpected occurs. The auto accident and the gunshot scenes are perfect examples of electrifying moments. The show is a series of vignettes. It examines the class differences which is still seen today as well as displaying the recklessness of youthful choices that somehow go terribly wrong and what we can learn from them. Leading the cast as Nick Carraway is Dillon Medina who commands the stage in this role. He is the narrator and gives a multilayered performance as he grows from a naive observer to a willing participant to finally speaking his mind in the final moments of the show which rivet you to your seat. Dillon tells the story of Jay Gatsby and the summer of discontent and he keeps your interest from start to finish. Bravo!
Jeff Church delivers a strong performance as the young mysterious millionaire with shady connections. Did Gatsby come from wealth or is it all a charade? How did he make his money and did he go to Oxford or not? Gatsby keeps you guessing until you find out that he knew Daisy before World War I, was madly in love with her and yearned for her these past five years. When they finally meet at the end of Act 1, Wendy has them throw shirts at each other to release the tension of their first meeting after all these years. It brings a lightness before the descent into the darkness later in the second act. Shannon Hartman is dynamite as the effervescent although, shallow, vain and self absorbed, Daisy Buchanan. The world must revolve around her as it has in the past when men fell at her feet. Shannon captures the inner angst of this rich philanderer’s wife but later on refuses to take a stand for what she wants. She also refuses to take blame for the accident and pretends life is just fine with her rich husband. Her anguished expression lets us know that she is still suffering because of her misdeed.
Patrick Keefe is boorish and bigoted as the philandering, Tom Buchanan. He runs roughshod over his wife and mistress. He bullies them and beats up Myrtle when she displeases him. His confrontation scene with Jordan and Nick is very well done. Allison Crews plays the bon vivant, Jordan Baker who is a golf pro in the show. She flirts with Nick only to be thwarted by Tom later in the show. The poor mechanic, George Wilson is excellently played by Andrew Stigler. He is jovial in the first act but becomes more desperate in the second with his wife and then after an act of violence, does the unthinkable. Myrtle Wilson is excellently played by Valerie Westgate. She runs the gamut of emotions from being flirty to drunk and abused. Wendy’s blocking of the accident with the dead body lying on stage when the next two deaths occur is a phenomenal moment in this show.
Kudos to Wendy and her whole cast and crew who make this version of “The Great Gatsby” much more enjoyable than the Robert Redford and Mia Farrow static and boring movie version. It holds your interest from the beginning to the end with terrific direction and acting prowess. So for a trip back to the Roaring Twenties where some things never change, be sure to catch “The Great Gatsby” at the Burbage Theatre Company’s new home in Pawtucket.
THE GREAT GATSBY (24 November to 17 December)
Burbage Theatre Company, 249 Roosevelt Avenue, Pawtucket, RI
1(401)484-0355 or www.burbagetheatre.org