When I was a kid, my yiddishe grandmother would pack us sandwiches for Saturday movie matinee (she called it “the show”). My cousins and I would line up at the box office of Pittsburgh’s Manor Theater, clutching in our little hands a few bucks and our greasy brown-paper bag lunches. The theater concession’s stellar offerings of Almond Joy, Good ‘N Plenty, Jujyfruits and Snow Caps, were off limits for the likes of us. We brought our own nosherai.
When the movie began, we’d uncrumple bags and rummage around. Unwrapping my particular favorite — a skinny but dense affair, a thin layer of my grandmother’s chopped liver slathered between two slices of challah — we’d watched the whatever-movie chomping on this ambrosia. But wafting from the open bag was the stench of food. As it seeped ’round the theater I felt shame for my grandmother’s old-world ways. Joy, embarrassment, piqued tastebuds, her severe version of love, and the dark theater — it all mixed together.
These childhood memories ran through my mind as I prepared snacks for “GATZ” at REDCAT last Wednesday — an eight-hour span of guerrilla theater, a pleasure made guilty by entering the theater’s dark cloak at 2 pm when others, normal people, were working. I, too, should be on the phone, or sending important emails. At REDCAT, in my seat, I was primed by the finger food I had packed, comforted by the knowledge that no matter how was the play, I would not starve to death. I would survive a marathon staged-reading of one of my favorite novels, The Great Gatsby, written by my all-time favorite author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The food matters because it’s intrinsic to the experience. At GATZ, you get two intermissions and out come the snacks. The REDCAT bar offers boxed salads and, this being L.A., tamales in a steamer. And it’s convivial. REDCAT has a strong lobby vibe, with high-decibel level conversations, and you can talk to strangers. I spied Annette Bening in the ladies room, close-cropped hair, black stovepipe jeans, boyish sneakers. Michael Silverblatt of Book Worm, dressed sharp in a black suit, dropped Fitzgeraldania onto the sidewalk during intermission. There’s a dinner break. Theater-goers disperse, some to the various Patina outlets. Bill and Sasha Anawalt went to The Blue Cow; I jumped into the cafeteria at the Colburn School for soup with my sandwich. But the play was the thing.
God, just go. The truth is that when I arrived at REDCAT, I planted myself at the bar. A gentleman approached and pronounced, F. Scott Fitzgerald-style, “Let me buy you a drink.” OMG, it was 2 pm in the afternoon, with a long day’s journey into night stretching ahead. But my grandmother’s granddaughter said instead, “Yes, please. Two fingers of Scotch.”
I did it for Scott. I had to. The gentleman knocked his drink back, but I, a lady, ported mine discreetly into the theater where the amazing performance began.
In the first of GATZ’s four acts, our narrator, Nick Carraway, embarks on a gin-soaked afternoon party with Tom Buchanan and his chippie, Myrtle Wilson. The apartment gathering is booze-laden, it’s insane, and the Elevator Repair Service actors deliver it as a carefully choreographed descent into hell. It springs to crazy life Fitzgerald’s text — and by extension the writer’s sodden, tortured reality.
It was during this scene that I took tiny sips from my whiskey; unbuckling my seat belt I took a ride with “GATZ.” There was a ten-minute window in which this spectator, buzzed and disoriented, melded with the cast and we were all one; it went beyond immersion theater, it was frightening and brilliant, it was a wild, careening journey. It was just fantastic.
GATZ. has five more performances. So, go.
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