The Select is not everyone’s cup of tea (or, more accurately, shot of whisky). The Elevator Repair Company, the group responsible for Gatz, an afternoon and evening marathon reading of The Great Gatsby, has followed up with a production of Ernest Hemingway’s masterwork that, after touring cities in the U.S, and Europe, opened in 2011 at the New York Theater Workshop. Now playing through April 2 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre, The Select focuses on American and British expatriates living in France and Spain in the aftermath of World War I.
Susie Sokol as Pedro Romero
In program notes, Director John Collins said that condensing Hemingway’s 260-page novel proved to be challenging. The play clocks in at around two and a half hours, and while there’s plenty of action – several lively dance sequences and a thrilling bull fight, ingeniously staged with a rolling table equipped with horns – the play is heavy on dialogue. But this is Hemingway, after all, and audience members who stay the course are rewarded with a theatrical event that is unique and inspiring. Those who have never read Hemingway, or have long forgotten his emphasis on simple prose, may find themselves on Amazon. His characters truly have stood the test of time and, brought to life on stage, prove to be as intriguing and complex as they are on the page.
The play’s narrator is Jake Barnes (a strong performance by Mike Iveson), who was injured in the war and is now impotent. He’s in love with Brett Ashley (Stephanie Hayes), who loves him, but, also loving sex, knows their relationship will never be consummated. Jake, however, is not the only one in love with Brett. In fact, virtually every many who comes into contact with her cannot resist her sexual appeal. And that’s a problem for this close knit group of friends, leading to arguments, breakdowns, and fist fights. All of this passion is fueled with copious amounts of alcohol. David Zinn’s set, meant to resemble a cafe in Paris or Spain, is dominated with bottles lining the shelves above the bar, and glasses filled with colorful liquids set up like marching soldiers on two long wooden tables. The actors are rarely without a glass or bottle in their hands. Sound designer Matt Tierney provides the special effects of liquor being poured and Champagne corks being popped.
Kate Scelsa as Frances, John Collins as Robert Cohn and Mike Iveson as Jake Barnes
Jake wears many hats – host, confidante, mediator, spectator, and good friend. When the play opens, he’s attempting to console Frances (Kate Scelsa), who is engaged to Jake’s Princeton classmate, Robert Cohn (played by Collins), but can’t get him to the altar. A Jew, Cohn never felt accepted at Princeton or among the group he’s with in Europe. His marriage to Frances doesn’t come off and his dalliance with Brett also proves to be a disaster. Brett is soon engaged to Mike (Paul Boocock), but then, intrigued with the spectacle of bullfighting, takes off with the 19 year-old matador, Pedro Romero (Susie Sokol). Finding herself alone and broke in San Sebastían, Brett sends a telegram to Jake, and he, of course, comes to rescue her.
Stephanie Hayes as Brett Ashley and Mike Iveson as Jake Barnes
Hayes’ performance as a femme fatale is brilliant. There’s no slinking around or bending over to flash cleavage. Her sexual appeal is more subtle, helped along by her appealing British accent. While a male magnet, the one thing she can’t attract is happiness. Jake and Brett are made for one another, but will never be happy together, a tragedy for both of them.
Hemingway meant The Sun Also Rises as a comment on the post World War I generation that many saw as being the “Lost Generation,” a term coined by Gertrude Stein. Hemingway scholars feel that the author was more optimistic, seeing these young people as possibly scarred, but still hopeful. Certainly that description might apply to many post-war generations.
Photos by Scott Suchman
The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
Elevator Repair Services
Shakespeare Theatre Comopany
450 7th Street NW
Through April 2, 2017
Jaleo located next door to the Lansburgh Theatre is offering a pre-theatre tasting menu in honor of The Select (The Sun Also Rises). The menu features three courses that bring alive the spirit and flavors of Spain at only $30 per person. Ask for “The Select” menu upon arrival or when making your reservation. Available Sunday–Thursday 5-6:30 p.m.