Theater review: ‘The Great Gatsby’ at HART

ALL THAT JAZZ: Kelsey Sewell and Charlie Cannon star in Haywood Arts Regional Theatre's production of "The Great Gatsby." The relatively new stage version of this legendary novel runs through Sunday, June 11.
ALL THAT JAZZ: Kelsey Sewell and Charlie Cannon star in Haywood Arts Regional Theatre's production of "The Great Gatsby." The relatively new stage version of this legendary novel runs through Sunday, June 11. Photo by John Highsmith

The Roaring ’20s embodied in F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby is an era of romanticism that still resonates in pop culture nearly a century later. Perhaps it was the Prohibition era, or jazz, or the rise of strong women in society. Haywood Arts Regional Theatre’s production of the relatively new stage version of this legendary novel runs through Sunday, June 11.

Playwright Simon Levy’s script is lean and fast-paced.  There have been great film adaptations that linger in the minds of viewers — Levy’s script is cinematic itself, giving us rapid scene changes and sometimes shifting location for only a handful of lines of dialogue. Such is the case when Gatsby and his newfound companion, Nick, take flight in a small airplane. Director Steve Lloyd eschews a sense of realism and, instead, dazzles the audience with rear projections and shifting lights to accommodate the flourishes of the script.

Charlie Cannon plays the enigmatic Jay Gatsby with a boyish charm. It is easy to imagine Cannon being right at home in the 1920s with pastel suits, flappers and bootleg booze. Gatsby is a war-hero-turned-wealthy-playboy. Or is he? An air of mystery surrounds him. The lengths to which he will go to win back his lost love, Daisy, drive the story.

Kelsey Sewell’s Daisy is a fiery and independent woman trapped in a marriage to Luke Haynes’s menacing Tom Buchanan. Daisy is far from frail, but also not as independent as she would like to be. Sewell walks that delicate edge with grace and ease, making her Daisy neither victim nor heroine in this tale. Meanwhile, Haynes gives Tom equal measures of arrogance and entitlement, which allows him to indulge notions of white nationalism and haughtiness due to his wealth.

Sarah Lipham plays Myrtle — the working-class wife of George Wilson (played by David Anthony Yeates) — who has found herself lured into the lifestyle of the rich and want-to-be famous. She’s having an affair with Tom. Wilson is vaguely aware of it and is desperate to make enough money to divert Myrtle from the temptations of Tom and his wealth. Lipham is great as the petulant and indulgent Myrtle. As Wilson, Yeates gives us a deeply troubled man driven toward desperate acts to regain control of his spiraling life.

David Hopes plays Meyer Wolfsham, Gatsby’s confidant, and gives the character the perfect level of sleaze and suspicion. His machinations are never clear, but he is helping Gatsby pull strings via money and influence.

Laura Gregory shines as golf champion Jordan Baker. She enjoys the opulent lifestyle her fame brings, though there is a cheating controversy that follows her, threatening to ruin her reputation. She finds herself paired with Daisy’s cousin Nick, whom Gatsby seeks out to help him in his plan to win Daisy back. In many ways, Nick is the conduit for the audience into this world, serving as the moral compass amid the easily bent morality of most of the characters. But Silas Waugh‘s choice to play Nick in a manner that would be better suited for film builds an awkward distance between the audience and character.

In the end, it is a show of style over substance — and ultimately that works in the favor of this cautionary tale of excess and ego.

WHAT: The Great Gatsby
WHERE: HART, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville, harttheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, June 11. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. $25

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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