by Meghan D’Souza
Photos by Len Struttmann
Cedar Rapids – The talent at Theatre Cedar Rapids has brought to life Simon Levy’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, featuring the characters you likely met in high school and have loved to hate ever since. At least, I have. Set in New York during the Roaring Twenties, these characters lead lives that are glamorous to the outsider, but Nick Carraway (David Schneider) gets an inside glimpse and leads the audience through the story where we learn the awful secrets that they’re hiding.
When the curtains opened to invite us to the story, I expected a detailed set covering the grand stage before us. Instead, we were greeted with Daisy Buchanan (Hannah Spina), Tom Buchanan (Joshua Lamb), Jordan Baker (Kim Meyer), and Nick Carraway chatting on a simple set with only tall windows and french doors behind them as the girls relaxed on a white chaise lounge in front of a bar. With each scene change, equally simple backgrounds were paired with just enough props to indicate the space and wealth of the characters. Behind them, the set was lined with a presumably iron stairwell and platforms that held the band members on each side, integrating them into the play. A cloth backdrop soaked in lighting set the mood of each scene. Trading the simple set design in for the grandiose design that I initially imagined was a good decision because it created an air of wealth and elegance. If they had tried too hard to create an intricate design belonging to millionaires of the 1920s, it could have been distracting and come across as too fake to be believable.
While we’re on the topic of the set and props, the technical crew deserves a shout out for one prop in particular that had the audience gasping in awe. During the second act, the actors actually drove a yellow car across the stage. It has been hours since I saw the play and I’m still wondering how they built the car.
The costume choices were also key to this play, as they typically are for any performance. The costumes added a great deal to the essence of the scenes with the beautiful hair designs and flapper dresses alongside the men in their suits and tuxedos.
During the first few scenes of the play, I felt the pace was a little quick. There are a few emotional scenes that require some build up to help draw the audience in so they feel what the characters are feeling. I think if the actors had slowed down to help the power of their words, voices, and actions sink in, it would have struck the audience a little harder. As the play progressed, however, the pacing improved. I found myself more affected by the story and began to hear and see more reactions from my fellow audience members.
Although the entire play was wonderfully cast, Daniel Kelchen stood out on the stage as Jay Gatsby. He commanded the audience’s attention with his presence and his words flew out naturally. He managed to both captivate the audience during serious scenes and hit the mark with his comedic timing.
Michaela Dagg, who played Myrtle Wilson, was also exceptional. In her limited time on stage, she managed to fully embody Myrtle’s qualities with her flamboyant portrayal. It takes a talented actress to be able to deliver an impressive performance in just a few scenes and Dagg did just that.
Whether you’re familiar with the book or not, you’ll enjoy having TCR’s version of Nick Carraway walk you through this story of love and tragedy.