Saturday, September 28, 2019

Memo from the RTC: Gatsby Wows - The WAVE

Memo from the RTC:  Gatsby Wows

By Norm Scott
For The WAVE - Sept. 28, 2019

Let me admit straight out. Even knowing that the great director Frank Caiati was directing The Great Gatsby at the Rockaway Theatre Company at Fort Tilden, had recruited an outstanding cast, and had designed the set, I still wasn’t sure I would like the play, especially after having recently re-watched the 1977 Robert Redford version of the movie. I also don’t remember loving the book, considered one of the greats of all time, when we read it in college. But I was a young fool, taking things at face value. Like a lefty like me doesn’t want to read about the idle rich, as if that was all the novel was about. (Then again I am hooked by Downton Abbey and since I’m retired I actually feel like a member of the idle rich, partially due to my wonderful Medicare for a few.)

Gatsby is not a fluff piece but a serious examination of social classes and attitudes about the rich and poor. In the very first scene we are hit by the white supremacy views of Tom Buchanan, followed by one of the most insightful and poignant comments on gender by a trapped Daisy talking about her baby daughter: “I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” And a guy wrote this. Or maybe not, since we now hear F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda had more to do with his works than we thought.

So even though I went to opening night to do my job as one of the official theatre videographers, within minutes I was totally caught up in every single word of dialogue. Frankly, Franky has produced a better piece of work than either the movie. Ahhh, the power of live theater. It really does make a difference. The Tony Homsey built set along with Lance Lewis’ spectacular lighting design, are as much stars of the show as the actors. As is the perfect sound design by Assistant Director John Panepinto, guided by RTC jack of all trades Rich Louis Pierre. And oh that stage manager, Suzanne Riggs (featured last week in The WAVE) who hit every one of the millions of light cues on the button. Did I say how important the lighting is in this play? Wait, I didn’t even talk about the amazing 1920s costumes designed by Kerry O’Connor and Adele Wendt (who as always also has a role in the play). The entire costume team consists of a dozen women.

Franky managed to cast four out of the five main roles to newcomers to the RTC, but certainly not newcomers to serious theater work.

Nina Varano (Academy of Dramatic Arts and American Film Inst) turns Daisy Buchanan into reality, with the exact look and beauty we expect. But can she act? Holy crap, can she!! Everyone is in love with Daisy, so watch it, especially you guys, that you don’t fall under her spell. Nick Safier (NYU Tisch School of the Arts) IS a perfect, elusive Gatsby. John Squires (Tom Buchanan) has a resume as long as your arm and scared the hell out of me. So nice after the show to meet him and find out he runs a dog walking service in Brooklyn Heights. Tiffany Faulkner (Stella Adler Acting school, American Musical and Dramatic Academy) plays Jordan Baker and perfectly captures the irony and cynicism of the post WWI early 1920s.

The RTC regular playing Nick Carraway (the F. Scott Fitzgerald alter ego) is Scholars Academy high school senior Steven Wagner, who has been with the RTC since he was ten. We haven’t seen him around this year as he’s been busy working on his signing with the NYC chorus but we are so happy to have him back.) Steven is 17 playing a 30 year old and having an on-stage affair with a grown woman and his acting is so good you don’t notice a thing. I tried to imagine myself at 17 on stage smooching with a grown woman to die for. I think I would have actually died. Steven’s great beard helps – I couldn’t grow a beard like that until I was 30.

Norm posts all his RTC and School Scope articles on his blog,


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