Theatre Cedar Rapids premiers stage version of ‘The Great Gatsby’

Photo by Von Presley Studios
Photo by Von Presley Studios

The Great Gatsby

Theatre Cedar Rapids — March 20 – April 11

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, has been the bee’s knees in recent years after director Baz Luhrmann released his 2013 film extravaganza. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as lonely, mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, the film inspired a trend of Gatsby-themed parties and flapper fashion. With all the alluring decadence, it is easy for superficial fans to be blind to Fitzgerald’s searing indictment of American excess and ambition. Filmmakers play up the riches to emphasize the novel’s message, but depicting those riches ends up undermining that same message.

The physical limitations of the stage provide a new opportunity to bring The Great Gatsby to life without the pitfalls of previous film versions. Theatre Cedar Rapids presents a recent adaptation by Los Angeles playwright Simon Levy — the only theatrical adaptation authorized by Fitzgerald’s estate. Levy had to prove his mettle by adapting Tender is the Night and The Last Tycoon before the estate would grant their approval.

In reworking the story for the stage, some change is necessary. The novel is from the first-person perspective of Midwestern native Nick Carraway, but a play has wider range of possible views for character actions and motivations. The theatricality of the 1920s marries well with the artifice of the stage, allowing the production to suggest wild parties and opulent neighborhoods without the exaggeration found in film versions. Most importantly, audiences share the same physical space as the action, allowing them to connect with iconic characters as people instead of as fashion models.