Bwog crashed the party of the year last night in the Glicker-Milstein Theater, where Prohibition was in effect yet ineffectual and the 20’s roared. Tuesday Daily Vivian Zhou and Deputy Editor Idris O’Neill lived to tell the tale of CU Players’ The Great Gatsby.
The play opens with a casual atmosphere, inviting the audience to a thrilling 20’s party and transforming the space with minimal set and prop additions. But this rendition of the Great Gatsby is a lot more than fabulous parties and everyday problems of the upper class. Instead of actors on a stage telling a story and audience members listening, this play is a much-needed discussion on topics like oppression of minorities, white privilege, and the “American dream.” Director Nick Hermesman (CC ’19) takes Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel and applies it to the modern “political turmoil that day-by-day sees the silencing of voices of dissent against the wealthy white men who lead it” while still retaining the original storyline.
One of the most striking, as well as the most important, differences in CU Player’s rendition of The Great Gatsby is the explicit choice to use actors of color in primary roles–all the women are women of color, while the titular Jay Gatsby is played by Blessing Johnson (CC ’22) and Nick Carraway, whose role as narrator is significantly reduced, is played by Ken Westrick (CC ’20). While the show makes throwaway lines to the lack of apparent “whiteness” of the cast, it brings forward more questions with its subversive casting. Jacob Weinstein (CC ‘22) provided an excellent contrast in his portrayal of Wilson, Myrtle’s husband, a white man with fixated jealousy for his wealthier counterpart Tom, but who ultimately acts as a prop to Tom’s schemes to kill the intentionally Black Gatsby. While Daisy (played by Asha Futterman BC ’21) and Myrtle (played by Danielle Hopkins BC ’21) play traditionally white characters, what does it mean for the objects of attraction–not affection, as the play insists “this is not a love story”–to be played by Black women?
Asha Futterman’s ironic recounts of Daisy’s white childhood elicit a chuckle from the audience, but the dynamics between Daisy and Tom (played by Diego Lomeli CC ’21) deepen as he mocks her distrust and suspicion and chastises her blasé regard for motherhood. Tom is not just a male aggressor who forces Daisy into her role as a good wife and mother, he becomes a tangible threat emblematic of societal realities for Daisy. As Tom grows possessive of Myrtle, he represents the historical white male entitlement of Black women’s bodies and his subsequent seemingly unlimited access. Even in watching The Great Gatsby, which is unanimously agreed upon that you should, it is not enough that you accept people of color in playing these roles, but imagine the implications and nuances that embody this very intentional casting.
CUP’s The Great Gatsby is also no stranger to sexuality and its expression. In many scenes, the women’s display of sexuality not unlike that of Chantel Woo’s (BC ‘20), who portrayed Jordan Baker, interactions with Nick Carraway. She embraces the boldness and independence of Jordan’s character through well-curated body language, facial expressions, and delivered her lines with intent. While still carrying herself as sexy and seductive, Woo portrays the character with the confidence and assertiveness required of women of color as they navigate a white-dominated, male-dominated society. Do not be alarmed if you witness this statement of sexual dominance throughout the play, across scenes and sexualities. CU Players adopts the responsibility of bringing The Great Gatsby’s queer subtext to the forefront of the play with many engaging scenes, including a flashback of Daisy and Gatsby’s meet-cute with role reversed choreography featuring Emily Zhang (CC ‘21) as an army man and Thomas Baker (CC ‘22) as one of Daisy’s girl friends. Baker captivates the audience and fully embraces his roles, even during scenes when he was just moving a sofa onto the stage or removing a table from the stage. His versatility can be seen in the many contrasting characters that he takes on. CUP’s run remains unafraid to explore the ambiguity that attends any adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
The show could not be written about without mentioning the excellent choreography throughout the entire play done by the director Nick Hermesman with assistance from Erin Hilgartner (CC ’21). The dance numbers and wordless miming delivered the play’s message through purposeful body language and left the audience with room for interpretation. It also eliminated unnecessary delivery of lines, generating more overall purpose to the lines that were vocally delivered. Dance numbers are expertly curated to be transitional moments, only briefly (if at all) implied in the novel, such as conversations between Myrtle and Tom and more excitedly, Daisy’s and Gatsby’s sex scene, which featured all other actors in lingerie and silk sheets, exemplifying the sensuality and intimacy of their relationship, as well as being analogous to its place in the public eye. The choice of music and costume brought the play to the setting of the prosperous Long Island in the 1920’s without distracting from the intentional message and portrayal of characters.
In two short hours, CUP’s The Great Gatsby managed to address political issues ranging from the oppression of minorities to classism, male privilege to sexual ambiguity, leaving audiences with a lot to consider and reflect on. In two short hours, CUP’s The Great Gatsby managed to become the impactful and well-produced show that was needed in the current political climate. Go to The Great Gatsby for its clever one-liners, its overt queer tones, amazing choreography, but most of all, to be challenged by the unconventional, once-in-a-lifetime experience that it is.
See CUP’s The Great Gatsby at the Glicker-Milstein Theatre tonight at 8 PM or tomorrow at 7 PM. Tickets are sold out but there will be a waitlist that can be joined 1 hour before showtimes.
Photo via CUP-The Great Gatsby Facebook