Students perform ‘The Great Gatsby’
Alexander Daugherty | Monday, April 15, 2019
The eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg survey the audience as they settle in for Anton Juan’s stage adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.” When the show starts, an unsettling short film, depicting fragments of 1920s culture in the United States, projects over Eckleburg’s gaze. The lights slowly rise over a party that most certainly could not have been: Daisy Buchanan, junior Teagan Earley, dominating the dance floor before fleeing under some distress. All this occurs under the unwavering gaze of both Eckleburg and Jay Gatsby himself, here played by sophomore Gabriel Krut.
The party and filmic opening serve as a microcosmic template onto which the rest of the show is transposed. Forced laughter, rhythmic repetition and consistently manipulative interruption serve to dictate the action and the consequences of the show, particularly as regards both Tom Buchanan, sophomore J.D. Carney, and Gatsby’s attention to Daisy. There is much more to be said about Juan’s attention to detail regarding the billboard and the ways the characters interact with it as well, but this review is more concerned with the characters and their actors.
Earley and Krut easily stole the show. The parallel between Eckleburg’s and Gatsby’s gazes is clear from the very opening, but its implications are less clear until Gatsby and Daisy are on stage together. Almost without exception, Gatsby has eyes only for her. The forced laughter and too-radiant smiles that dominate the show give way to something akin to pure joy, a sentiment that culminates in the well-known shirt scene. All, it seems now, is well. But there is a disconnect between Gatsby and Daisy. Both, it is true, are haunted by the past. Earley’s embodiment of Daisy’s nervousness combined with Krut’s ability to, like a switch, flick between beaming love and sharp obsession ensure this. This alternating tension and tenderness was brilliantly portrayed and was simply the strongest aspect of the show.
From the level of the text to the character’s motivations to their actions themselves, there was a circular movement, a constant echoing logic and undercurrent. The lines would often contain whole echoes of previous phrases, seemingly out of a need for emphasis or out of the show’s own neurosis. On the whole, however, Tom and Gatsby are defined by this circularity, two whirling entities of dominating male power into which Daisy has flung herself and in which she is hopelessly trapped. She bounces, sometimes literally as is seen in the hotel scene, between her two loves. She wishes to be with Gatsby, but she cannot simply forget the five years of even mild love she felt for Tom. Most of all, and a fact which Tom exploits mercilessly throughout the play, Daisy wishes to love and protect her daughter more than anything.
The only moments of reprieve from circularity come when Daisy is reminded of her “Pammy.” An addition to this end, and a brilliant point of access to Daisy’s interiority, was in her moments of song, directed it seemed to her daughter. Most readings, or most uninformed readings, place Daisy in the camp of the shallow and groveling. Though, thanks to Juan and Earley’s work in this production, her true emotional flesh was apparent.
This production was, of course, not without its weaker points, although they were only apparent when one was looking for them. On the whole, the show was eerie, wondrous and powerfully moving by turns and an overall excellent production.