When I first read “The Great Gatsby”, it was summer — the best time of year, I think, to become acquainted with Gatsby’s decadent stretch of Long Island. Lying on the beach, I flipped through sun-soaked pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s languid prose, wishing I could dust off my sandy feet and step straight into one of those glorious, glowing parties.
That’s what happens, when we first slip between the pages of a book (or, in this day and age, scroll down the iPad’s screen or plug in the earbuds): we conjure up bits of the characters’ world until it begins to seep into our own. The Jay Gatsby I imagined was not like Robert
Redford, or indeed like the Gatsby of anyone else’s imagination. The characters and places of our favorite books become our own as we read, tainted by the elements of our surroundings, comfortably nestled in the recesses of our imagination for as long as we love our favorite books. They’re often shadowy figures, stronger in essence than in physical presence, and completely unique to our personal interpretations. Gatsby is a particularly elusive character to conjure up — which is why, perhaps, the new production of the show “Gatz” tries to capture, not the character himself, but the process of imagining him.
“Gatz”, which is currently running at the Public Theater in New York, sounds like a strange hybrid between a play and a book reading. In the performance, presented by Elevator Repair Service , a man sits down to read “The Great Gatsby” — out loud and verbatim all the way through — in a nondescript office building and gradually finds the imaginative world of the book building itself around him. As he warms to the story, his voice plunges and falls with the dialogue and the bland characters around the office fantastically morph into Daisy Buchanans and Jordan Bakers.
In one sense, spending six-odd hours listening to someone read any book — even one as lyrically beautiful as “The Great Gatsby” — sounds like one of the dullest, oddest activities. On the other hand, I’m intrigued by the premise of imagining the imagination, bringing to life one of the strangest intangible phenomena: the translation of small black spots of ink into pictures and voices so vivid, we can recall them in an instant. When I read the book, Fitzgerald drew me into his world of banana yellow cars and vast glimmering mansions, glamorous, tanned women and beautifully dressed men, and I fell in love with it all. It’s now been a few years since I read the book, but if I want to, I can still conjure up my Gatsby (who, if pressed, I might say looks more like Clark Gable than Robert Redford), and see him standing, immaculately suited, in the Long Island summer darkness, searching for his green light.
Though I may not get around to seeing “Gatz” in the theater, there’s always the original “Gatsby”, sitting patiently on my bookshelf. And even though summer has officially waned, maybe it’s time I gave the novel another read.