Reviewed by Tony Annicone
URI’s closing show of their season is “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This classic novel 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 through 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 as well as 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. Director Byrna Wortman casts these roles splendidly and obtains nuanced performances from her college performers. She adds music and dancing to the show to bring the entire audience into the 1920’s and brighten up the first act. The Foxtrot and Charleston are fabulously performed and were conceived by Valerie Ferris.
The show is a series of vignettes and the action is moved from to scene with some fantastic rear projection of opulent mansions. It also examines the class differences at that same time and which can still be witnessed today. It also shows the recklessness of youthful choices that somehow go dreadfully wrong and what can be learned from them. It is also about change and those who resist it. Ben Church commands the stage as the Narrator, Nick Carraway. He delivers a multilayered performance as he tells the story of Gatsby and that summer of discontent. Ben is a senior who has shown that he can handle dramatic, comic and musical roles with ease. I first reviewed him as the comic Christopher Wren in “The Mousetrap” back in 2013. Steven Carvalho does an excellent job as Jay Gatsby, a young mysterious millionaire with shady connections. Did he come from wealth or is his past something different? He keeps you guessing and you also find out that he and Daisy met before World War 1 and were in love with each other back then. He waits five years to finally confront her with Nick’s help. Cassidy McCartan tackles the role of Daisy, who is young and effervescent although shallow and self absorbed. She captures the inner angst of this rich man’s wife but at the same time refuses to take a stand for what she wants. Later on she refuses to admit the truth of what happened and pretends life is wonderful because she is still married to a rich man.
Christopher X. Morris is brutal and overbearing as Tom Buchanan who played football in college. He cheats on his wife constantly but continues to keep her under his thumb. His confrontation scene with Jordan and Nick is the second act is well done. Statuesque Rebecca Magnotta plays the golf pro, Jordan Baker who has a fling with Nick. She does a wonderful job in this role. Tom reveals a unsavory secret from her past to upset the apple cart for her. The poor mechanic George Wilson is well played by Erik Schlitt. He has a dramatic scene in the second act that shocks the audience. His cheating bitchy wife, Myrtle Wilson is excellently played by Celine Montaudy. She plays the gamut of emotions of being drunk, being abused and being a bitch on wheels to her devoted but simple minded husband. Kudos to Bryna and her whole cast who make this “The Great Gatsby” more enjoyable than the Robert Redford and Mia Farrow movie version by holding your interest and attention from start to finish without being boring in the least. So for a look back at the more things change the more they stay the same, be sure to take a trip back to the Roaring Twenties with “The Great Gatsby” before time runs out.
THE GREAT GATSBY (20 to 30 April)
University of Rhode Island Theatre, Will Theatre, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston, RI
1(401)874-5843 or www.uri.edu/theatre/