The actor Scott Shepherd in “Gatz.”
The actor Scott Shepherd in “Gatz.”
Courtesy McCarter Theatre

After William W. Lockwood Jr. ’59 saw Gatz — the word-for-word theatrical performance of F. Scott Fitzgerald ’17’s The Great Gatsby — last year in New York City, he knew he had to bring it to Princeton.

The show, created by the theater company Elevator Repair Service, was hailed by New York Times critic Ben Brantley as the “most remarkable achievement in theater” of the decade.

Gatz “blew me away. It was a staggering achievement,” said Lockwood, McCarter Theatre’s special-programming director. “It’s every word of the book except the chapter headings.” When Lockwood approached the company about performing it at McCarter, “They loved the idea of bringing it down to F. Scott’s college town,” he said.

The cast will present four performances, Dec. 15–18, in McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. The show lasts about seven hours and 45 minutes, including a dinner break and two intermissions. Tickets cost $150.

The play opens as an anonymous office worker, played by Scott Shepherd, arrives in a drab office. He finds a paperback in the clutter on his desk — The Great Gatsby — and begins reading.

Actors “portray the other workers in Nick the reader’s office and, eventually, the other characters in Nick the narrator’s book,” wrote Brantley in his October 2010 review. “This metamorphosis, though, occurs by ingeniously sly degrees, and it seems to be taking place entirely in the reader’s mind.” Gatz, noted Brantley, “chronicles one reader’s gradual but unconditional seduction by a single, ravishing novel.”

Elevator Repair Service’s former co-director and Gatz associate director Steve Bodow “had always been a fan of the novel” and proposed using it as a starting point for a new piece, said company founder and Gatz director John Collins. After stopping work on the project for several years, they took it up again in 2003 — rehearsing in a small office, which gave them the idea to “stage a performance of the entire text in an office,” Collins said.

When Lockwood saw it in New York, he was “transfixed.” Watching Gatz “was like reading [the novel] for the first time.”