The Great Gatsby is a cautionary tale about the perils of the American Dream

Civic Theater Great Gatsby

By: Victoria Mullen

Set in a world of privilege, prohibition, decadence, wealth, colliding social worlds, and the incompatible contradictions, The Great Gatsby portrays an ill-fated quest for the American Dream.

Kicking off its 90th year, the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre (GRTC) opens this stage play Sept. 11, which runs through Sept. 27. Described as a cautionary tale, the production is recommended for teen and adult audiences. It closely follows the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and includes original dialogue.

First published in 1925, Fitzgerald’s 50,000-word novel focuses on 10 individuals living in the non-existent town of West Egg on prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922. Mysterious, self-made millionaire, Jay Gatsby is consumed by his passion and obsession with a beautiful, high-society girl, Daisy Buchanan. Driven to recreate himself as something astounding, and believing that fiction can be transformed into truth, the young man becomes ensnared in a trap of deception that costs him the ultimate sacrifice, as he passionately pursues the enigmatic Daisy Buchanan in a story of danger, greed, and obsession.

Inspired by the wild parties he reveled in on Long Island’s north shore, Fitzgerald started planning the novel in 1923. Writing was slow going, and the author completed his first draft after he moved to the French Riviera in 1924.

Fitzgerald died thinking his book was a failure
Fitzgerald died thinking his book was a failure

Upon publication, The Great Gatsby received mixed reviews; it sold only 20,000 copies the first year. When Fitzgerald died in 1940, he believed himself a failure and his work forgotten. Then, the novel enjoyed a resurgence during World War II and became required reading in American high schools. Over the years, many stage and film adaptations were produced, including the 2013 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Fitzgerald based many of the novel’s events on his own early life experiences. He grew up in Minnesota, and like Nick, he attended an Ivy League school, Princeton (in Nick’s case, Yale).

As with Gatsby, Fitzgerald was seduced into a life of decadence as he sought to prove himself to the object of his obsession. As a second lieutenant stationed at Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama, Fitzgerald met and fell in love with a tempestuous teenaged beauty named Zelda Sayre. Zelda’s insatiable desire for fun, leisure, and wealth caused her to delay marrying Fitzgerald until he could prove to her that he was a success.

As he attained celebrity status, Fitzgerald tumbled into a wild, irresponsible lifestyle of parties and self-indulgence, all the while writing to earn money in a desperate struggle to please Zelda. Similarly, Gatsby amasses a great deal of wealth at a young age, and applies himself to procuring possessions and hosting lavish parties designed to win him Daisy’s love.

Gatsby embodies Fitzgerald’s struggle to confront his clashing feelings about the Jazz Age. As with Gatsby, Fitzgerald was propelled by his obsession for a woman who epitomized everything he wanted, even as she led him toward everything he loathed.

The case of The Great Gatsby
The case of The Great Gatsby

The GRCT production stars Brian Peerbolt as Jay Gatsby, Audrey Filson as Daisy Buchanan, Whitney Dykhouse as Myrtle Wilson, Sydney Doorbos as Jordan Baker, Matthew Swartz as Tom Buchanan, David Cobb as Nick Carraway, Patrick Hendren as George Wilson, Linnae Caurdy as Mrs. McKee/Michaelis, Liam Tichelaar as Mr. McKee/Cop, and Leo Zainea as Meyer Wolfsheim.

WHEN: September 11-27
WHERE: Grand Rapids Civic Theater, 30 N. Division Ave., Grand Rapids
Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Call 616.222.6650 or purchase tickets ($16-$28) online
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