It's been an interesting time for the Public Theater. Though it's had shows on Broadway and high-profile Shakespeare revivals, its two most consistent (and unlikely) ticket-sellers have been a couple scrappy productions from the edgy, experimental theatre fringes.
One is Mike Daisey's searing one-man indictment of Apple, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which recently returned to the Public for a encore engagement. The other is Gatz, Elevator Repair Service's six-and-a-half-hour staging of the entire text of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." A big critical and popular hit last season, it returns on March 14 for a run that will continue until May 6. At the center of every show is actor Scott Shepherd, who, as narrator Nick Carraway, does most of the talking, at first reading from the book itself and later telling the tale, word for word, from heart. This is one performance where that old layman question — "How do you memorize all those lines?" — is actually somewhat appropriate. Playbill.com talked to the man with a book in his head.
How many times have you done Gatz so far?
Scott Shepherd: I know we passed 100 when we were at The Public. Maybe 130, 140, like that.
And how many countries have you done it in?
SS: A lot! Portugal, Austria, The Netherlands. We were in France? Dublin, Australia, Belgium.
When you first started the project, were you familiar with the book?
SS: Only in that high school way. I had only the completely inadequate appreciation for it that you have for books that you read in high school.
I guess you have a much better appreciation for it now.
SS: I hope so. As we read through it again, I remembered the general shape of it. It starts out kind of comic and then leads to this confrontation at the hotel, and then the car accident. I had a particular memory for that long list of names at the Gatsby party, that great epic catalogue.
At this point, I imagine, there are huge swaths of the book that you could recite by heart if I asked you to.
SS: Yeah. There's a game we like to play — or that [director] John Collins started to like making me do at fundraisers and things — called Stump the Freak. He'd hand the book out to somebody in the audience and they'd find four or five words in a row and read them and then I'd jump in from wherever they had left off.
SS: I don't know what I've lost! [Laughs.] Something important, I'm sure.
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