On the money 

In Montana Rep's Gatsby, Daisy steals the show

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is a fascinating story made wildly vivid through the novel's delicious language. The colors that pop up throughout—yellow, blue and green—create cohesive visual threads, literary Easter eggs and symbolism. Themes of idealism and decadence, disappointment and self-destruction, surface and re-surface in a pattern that makes the novel feel like an impressionistic painting. No word is squandered, no ends left loose. It seems like it would be a nightmare to take such on-page genius and bring it to the stage, but Simon Levy's 2006 adaptation doesn't fail like it really should. It will never be the novel, sure, but it isn't second-rate either. If some adaptations—film, theater or otherwise—feel like they were created just for the hell of it, this isn't one of them. This one feels like its own work of art.

The Montana Repertory Theatre production of The Great Gatsby, directed by Greg Johnson, takes full advantage of Levy's great script with pacing and energy essential to a story that deals in ambivalence and nuanced emotional shifts. In the story we meet Tom and Daisy Buchanan, a rich couple with plenty of leisure time and just as much strife. Daisy's cousin, Nick Carraway, is the down-to-earth narrator and it's through his eyes we see the decadent lifestyle of early 1920s West Egg, Long Island. Central to the story is Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man living in a mansion who we learn has a past with Daisy—and his passion for her sets in motion a domino effect that leads to some shocking events.

The set is an incredible angled backdrop of windows behind which a screen shows images of a stunning blue bay, and at other times rain storms and greenery. Designer John Shaffner, who has worked on every sitcom you can think of—from "Friends" to the "Big Bang Theory"shows the brilliance of what an Emmy-award-winning eye can do, making the set into its own moody character.

click to enlarge Kelly Campbell, center, stars as Daisy Buchanan, along with Mason Wagner, left, as Nick Carraway and Amber Rose Mason as Jordan Baker. - PHOTO COURTESY OF TERRY CYR
  • photo courtesy of Terry Cyr
  • Kelly Campbell, center, stars as Daisy Buchanan, along with Mason Wagner, left, as Nick Carraway and Amber Rose Mason as Jordan Baker.

The cast, made up of professional equity actors and local talent, doesn't have a weak link. Some performances rise above others, however, the most obvious being Kelly Campbell as Daisy Buchanan. She has a certain Helena Bonham Carter madness to her—more chipper and Jazz-age cool than gothic, but the manic charm and fragile weirdness is the same (and so is the hair style). Physically, Campbell is tiny, but her presence on stage is huge. Whether she's flirting or chiding, laughing or falling apart with sadness, she is the gravitational pull—the sun that everyone else orbits, despite the danger that they could get sucked in by her energy and burn.

Daisy is often described by literary critics as shallow and careless, and to a certain extent she is. She's also the coveted fantasy for every straight male—the manic-pixie dream girl of the 1920s. I like the way Carey Mulligan plays Daisy with sad reservation in the 2013 film adaptation alongside Leonardo DiCaprio. And Mia Farrow is fabulously neurotic in the 1974 version. But Campbell breaks the mold in a refreshing way. She is frightening in her sweeping dramatics, but it's the little things—the way she trails off her sentences, the way her voice cracks, the way her laugh becomes hollow—that makes her feel human. She isn't a dream; she's the nightmare of what happens when women live in a world where their only currency is their bodies. She's the collateral damage of the male gaze. If she stays with her husband, she's stuck in a world where no amount of money can bring anyone happiness. If she goes with Gatsby-who knows? Once he gets her, will he lose interest? No matter what, she'll grow old, and that terrifies her. Campbell carries the weight of the no-win situation into every gesture. If she has a "voice full of money," like Tom says she does, it's only because that's how spurned men see her.

Hugh Bickely plays Tom with a solid mix of cruelty and sympathy and Mark Kuntz—who played the hardass sergeant in Montana Rep's 2013 Biloxi Blues—delivers an aloof and assured Gatsby. But it's the women in this play who take the most satisfying theatrical risks. I especially enjoyed the performance of Elizabeth Bennett as the nasally Mrs. McKee. She's a young actress with range who dives into her roles with an adventurous spirit. In many ways, she's the comic relief, but like Campbell she keeps her outrageous character from becoming caricature. I'm not sure what Fitzgerald thought of his Gatsby women but, in this case, he should be proud.

Montana Rep's The Great Gatsby continues at the Montana Theatre Thu., Jan. 29–Sat., Jan. 31, Thu., Feb. 5 and Sat., Feb. 7, at 7:30 PM nightly, with a Sat., Jan. 31, matinee at 2 PM. $10–$20.

  • Email
  • Favorite
  • Print

Tags:

Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
Good Vibes Tour Summer 2017: Rebelution, Nahko and the Medicine People + more

Good Vibes Tour Summer 2017: Rebelution, Nahko and the Medicine People + more @ Big Sky Brewery Amphitheater

Fri., June 23, 6:15 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

© 2017 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation