Warning: This article contains spoilers.
Brunswick High School’s (BHS) fall play, “The Great Gatsby,” begins with the full cast on stage, dancing mournfully to Florence and The Machine’s “Over The Love.” Soon after, the cast departs, leaving Nick Carraway—played by BHS senior Jaden Nicita—alone to narrate the circumstances of his arrival in the fictional town of East Egg on Long Island in the 1920s.
The opening dance and narration are the first sign of the roughly two and a half hour production’s ability to be faithful to the book while also giving life to the story in a way that the book can’t.
Nicita said it was important to maintain Nick’s first-person perspective as presented in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel on which the play is based.
“I think through keeping [Nick’s] narration, that I have throughout [the play], it definitely stays true to the original text. This is the projection of what’s happening in the imagination when someone’s telling you a story,” Nicita said.
Yet the play is not a replica of the book, either. Nicita added that the music and dancing in a live performance add a character that the written word lacks.
“Music and culture are integral to [the 1920s],” Nicita said. “[Music] definitely livens and thickens the story in ways that you can’t get just from reading the text.”
Directed by Linda Gardiner, who regularly directs BHS plays and musicals, and produced by Michael Millet, “Gatsby” opened last night and will run again tonight, tomorrow afternoon and tomorrow evening.
The show uses playwright Simon Levy’s adaptation of the play, which ends more immediately after Gatsby’s death than the book does.
“I really liked the end of the Simon Levy production because it’s the death of Gatsby and then it’s over,” Gardiner said. “I didn’t feel the need to do the end of the book, where Gatsby’s father comes back to the funeral because I felt like it was an anticlimax.”
Gardiner made a few changes to the production. She moved Gatsby’s death offstage after the Lewiston mass shootings in October, and she planned from the beginning to put George Wilson’s suicide offstage.
“I’d already planned to have the suicide of George offstage … and then after the recent events we decided to also take Gatsby’s death offstage,” Gardiner said. “I don’t think it takes away anything from the play. It’s almost better that the audience doesn’t see it and just hears the gunshots on either side of the stage.”
The play uses some modern music, a choice Gardiner made both because the students like it and for the 21st-century touch it puts on the story. Emile Sandé’s cover of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” for example, plays in the background of one of Gatsby’s parties. Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” also used in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film adaptation, plays in the finale. The play includes older music more reflective of the setting as well.
“I see it as a fusion between the era it’s set in and the modern day,” Gardiner wrote in an email to the Orient. “The students really enjoyed the music! More relatable for them!”
The play’s actors said that performing “Gatsby” gave them insights into the characters beyond those gained from reading the book. The book is written from Nick Carraway’s perspective, which required other actors to dissect the text for hints of what the other characters were thinking.
“Everybody’s more 3-D than [the way that] they’re presented in the book because it’s not just through the narration lens,” Nicita said. “So it was more exciting to find the nuances within the original text, of, ‘okay, sure, Nick saw Tom [Buchanan] this way, but for someone who’s playing Tom, how does Tom feel as himself?’”
BHS senior Nolan Kaiser, who plays the titular character, said it was a challenge to understand Gatsby’s thoughts from reading the book.
“I had to do a lot of research on different scripts, and I read the book several times and I heard some people read audiobooks of the book to see how they spoke [Gatsby’s] lines,” Kaiser said. “It was very different to try and build a character out of what felt like … very little to work with, in terms of who he was and what he was thinking.”
BHS senior Marguerite Benham, who plays Daisy Buchanan, said playing Daisy gave her more empathy for the character than she had when she read the book for the first time.
“One of the first descriptions I read about Daisy [said] she doesn’t really have a lot going on, [that] she’s just a conduit for the other things to happen, but I think there’s a lot more to her than that. I still have to have that aspect of, ‘I’m just a girl!’ but I also have the emotion and the pride and the hurt and this sort of manic aspect to her,” Benham said.
BHS sophomore Reva Shende, who plays Jordan Baker, said she found insecurities in Jordan’s character not explicitly clear in the book.
“One thing I figured out [about Jordan] is that she always feels second best to Daisy. She never overtly says that, but it’s kind of implied in the way she tells certain stories and the way she conveys certain information to the characters,” Shende said. “It’s been really neat to explore that and even cooler to present that in a way that is acting within acting because I’m up there, and my character is trying to be lofty and above it all, but inside I’m still a little hurt and unsure about myself.”
Recently, critics have written that another recent play adaptation of “Gatsby” is too different from the book and doesn’t sufficiently convey the tragedy of the story because it glamorizes Gatsby’s parties.
Nicita said that, by contrast, this adaptation of the play tries to portray the lavish parties with the same ambivalence the book does.
“It’s not about the party scenes. There are two main ones in the show,” Nicita said. “Due to the size of our cast, it’s not like they’re monstrous and filled with people over there; it leaves the audience to imagine that. In reality, it feels a little lonely on stage because there’s not 50 people.”
Nicita also said that the play tries to be a live imagination of the book as is, rather than a twist on or a reinterpretation of it.
“We’re not trying to distance the stage version from the original. I think we get away from the book a lot by bringing it to the stage,” Nicita said. “But symbolically through the brilliant set piece of the book in the center, it’s still very much at the heart of the story.”