This weekend I eagerly awaited Saturday when Milton and I were seeing Gatz, a more than eight-hour long marathon reading of The Great Gatsby, complete with two intermissions and a dinner break, currently playing in a sold out run at the Public Theater. I was also avidly anticipating Sunday when I tuned into the season ending finale of Mad Men.
Now that I have seen both, I am in a state of anti-climax.
Gatz is set in a shabby office that a worker enters one morning. As he waits interminably for his ancient malfunctioning computer to boot, he opens an oversized Rolodex and out pops a weathered paperback copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. The worker starts reading the book aloud, and as his colleagues and boss enter, everyone assumes a role, or various roles in Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, even though none of the actors look much like the characters Fitzgerald illustrates. The excellent reader, Scott Shepherd, becomes Nick Carraway, the book’s narrator. I agree whole-heartedly with every critic that called this premise by the theater company, Elevator Repair Service, inventive.
The New York Times chief theater critic, Ben Brantley, called Shepherd’s performance “astonishing.” Time Out New York went one step further and called the entire six-hour production “astonishing.” Astonishing to me, is entering my home and finding Barack Obama in the kitchen making me dinner, not seeing a veteran theater professional deliver a terrific performance. I expected Scott Shepherd to pull this off, and he fully met my expectations. Scott Brown of New York Magazine called Gatz a “spell-binding” six hours. Hm.
The one clear-eyed critic who nailed this production perfectly was Elizabeth Vincentelli of The New York Post:
“Still, hearing a book read aloud wears really thin. “Gatz” comes with a hip reputation — it was extended twice before opening, and has been performed around the world — but it’s as maddeningly tedious as it is brilliant. By the end, my mind was as numb as my butt.”
Furthermore, our performance seemed to have endless lampooning on stage that elicited so many peels of laughter from a novel we never considered remotely comic that Milton remarked, “This is so camp, I feel like we’re watching a marathon Carol Burnett skit.” We found that disconcerting, and we know we’re in the minority here, but we thought it was an insult to the beauty of Fitzgerald’s prose. The guy sitting next to me was the loudest howler in the theater. I am certain that throughout the first two acts, he thought he was watching a hilarious comedy. I wanted to stick a sock down his throat.
Following the 75-minute dinner break, I briefly suffered food coma during Act 3, but Act 4, when there was little for our audience to laugh at, redeemed it for us. Afterward, Milton told me that he could not get gay male porn star, Billy Wild, off his mind. This is because Wild bears a striking resemblance to Scott Shepherd.
As for Mad Men, featuring the somewhat Gatsby-like Dick Whitman-invented Don Draper, played brilliantly — but not astonishingly — by Jon Hamm, I will sum up the finale with a single word that could pertain to the entirety of season 4, “Douchbags.” And I mean that in a good way. Rather than join the dedicated herd compelled to deliver a blow by blow recount of every gulp of alcohol, tryst (including allusions to oral – woo hoo), chunky heave and clever bon mot, that was swallowed, spewed, and snarked this season, I will resist the urge to reveal any spoilers and simply say that it appears that no animals were abused in filming, with the possible exception of those worn as vintage furs. Mad Men remains a consistently entertaining TV show, and for anyone who has yet to follow it, it’s a very enthralling form of escapism and worthy of DVD rental. I am already looking forward to season five.
Series creator, Matthew Weiner, blows his former boss, Sopranos creator, David Chase, completely away. Week after week, every episode of Mad Men is compelling and unlike David Chase, Matt Weiner does not start sub-plots, drop them and leave the viewer hanging. Overall, Mad Men is a superior TV series, well written, well researched, well acted, even though The Sopranos was not TV, it was <cough> HBO. Provided AMC does not prematurely pull the plug on Mad Men, if Weiner is allowed to wrap this series when he’s ready to do so, I give him a big vote of confidence that the last episode of Mad Men, whenever that will be, will be a million times more satisfying than the over-hyped, ultimately flaccid and forgettable series ending finale of The Sopranos.
Meanwhile, I am also relieved that I probably have at least 39 weeks where I no longer have to feel obligated to bring my life to a screeching halt Sunday nights at 10 pm to tune into Mad Men, not that I anticipate I will accomplish anything of life-enhancing significance with that extra 39 hours. If I did, that would be astonishing.