The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
Adapted from the Ernest Hemingway novel by Elevator Repair Service
Directed by John Collins
Those expats sure did drink. And drink and drink and drink. The characters in The Select, Elevator Repair Service's exuberant but slight-seeming adaptation of The Sun Also Rises (through October 23), live by an ethos of perpetual intoxication, making Mad Men's alcoholics look teetotal as they relish the cultural debauchery that permeated those lost years between the wars. The show even exchanges Hemingway's title for the name of one of the story's many watering holes; the official poster shows a cork on the end of a screw. But all the glamorous imbibing glosses over underlying hurt: that shared by the story's many men, all hopelessly in love with the capricious and sexually liberated Brett Ashley (Lucy Taylor), and that of the Lady herself, perpetually dissatisfied with where she is—and, more so, with whom.
Capping ERS' trilogy of American modernist masterpieces, The Select, at three and a half hours, is not a word-for-word adaptation like last season's seven-hour Gatz. "We have uncovered a play inside the novel," director John Collins has said. But the show is still upfront about its literary origins; it's narrated to distancing effect. Mike Iveson, heroically indefatigable, stars as Jake Barnes, filling the role's dual functions: the wryly witty, cockily charming character (is it in poor taste to call the famously impotent Barnes "cocky"?) and the first-person narrator, chronicling the action, frequently adding "he said" to the ends of other actors' lines. The narrative he relates is loose like a party, moving as a hostess between guests from the Paris sentimentalized in Midnight in Paris to the bull fights of Pamplona—the same ligneous barroom designed by David Zinn stands in for all of them—where the carousing sours. Paris proves a feast immoveable.
Hemingway's novel reads like an updated Carmen, with Barnes' pal Robert Cohn as Don Jose and the toreador as, well, the toreador. And this stage production has the liveliness of an operatic fiesta. But what else? Its greatest achievement is giving color to Papa's colorless prose, instilling goofy energy, down to the sound design and transmutability of the set, in the book's blotto bacchanals, at the edges of which lurks a pernicious melancholy. These carefree but hard-boiled revelers hide their vulnerabilities beneath the joie de vivre of evening. But despair always follows, plain to see in solitary darkness. Like The Select, that Jazz Age looks like a lot of fun. Until the buzz wears off.
(Photo: Mark Burton)