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The play with dapper suits and fancy flappers deserved hand clappers. There were also ele- ments of “The Great Gatsby” that grated on me.
The MSU Department of Theatre’s presentation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic was filled with fantastic and elaborate “Roaring ‘20s” costumes by Meredith Wagner, exceptional original music composed by Jason Painter-Price and remarkable marble-looking set pieces designed by Ray Kelly. Kelly also created spectacular projected visuals — such as a moving car and plane, and a New York City skyline.
“The Great Gatsby,” adapted for the stage by Simon Levy and performed in MSU’s Pasant Theatre, also had irritating sound issues, bothersome happenings and occasional vexing moments.
Jay Gatsby — solidly performed by DJ Shafer in his best Leonardo DiCaprio imitation — briefly lost his microphone amplification and made no “splash” noise when he fell into a “pool.” Music continued after a phonograph was supposedly turned off. Rain noises persisted when it was proclaimed the rain had stopped.
Jacob Covert as Nick Carraway held a knife from an earlier scene and managed to walk repeatedly across the aforementioned pool’s “water.” When the convincing Emma Callis as Myrtle Wilson was killed dramatically, her body awkwardly remained on stage in full view during the last scenes of the play. Some unfortunate coughs from the lingering corpse were also perplexing.
Ten ensemble cast members changed costumes, characters and set arrangements with ease. Two massive, cascading stairways were shifted, and a large “fountain” and band platform would disappear and re-emerge from a hidden opening at the back of the stage. Clever lighting by Savannah McComb simulated water, car headlights and nighttime hues. Occasional dancing choreographed by Karen Vance was fluid and period-accurate.
Although I found the acting admirable, I had a hard time having any fondness for the characters — including a skilled interpretation of womanizer Tom Buchanan by Trevor Earley. Ariel Fahey mastered the role of a ditsy Daisy Buchanan, and Rachel Beck commanded her part as the posturing Jordon Baker. Adultery, cheating, drunkenness, shallowness, dishonesty, racism and abusing women were not particularly admirable.
Only Covert — whom I confess reminded me of a young Matthew McConaughey — made his narrator role somewhat likeable. But as any student who read the required high school novel might remember, having a disdain for Fitzgerald’s characters was often his intent.
The MSU “Gatsby” did a noteworthy job of condensing Fitzgerald’s book into a 90-minute-without-intermission play. The version directed by Deric McNish seemed stylish rather than outdated. “The Great Gatsby” was a compelling story when it was written in 1925.
Almost a century later, its soap opera-esque tale about clandestine affairs, dubious business dealings, wealthy snobs and murder still had appeal. The lavish performance certainly made a splash on the local theater scene — even if I didn’t always hear it.
The Great Gatsby Through Sun., Oct. 22 Tickets start at $17. The Wharton Center for Performing Arts Pasant Theatre 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing. (517) 432-2000 whartoncenter.com.