I have always had mixed feelings about the Hemingway ouvre, but The Sun Also Rises has the special virtue of being perfect. It is one of those novels – Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is another – that uses an anecdote involving a small number of characters to distill the essence of an historical moment. So I was eager to see THE SELECT at New York Theatre Workshop, in which the Elevator Repair Service adapts the book to the stage as part of a continuing experiment in the translation of prose into drama.
By all accounts the company’s version of The Great Gatsby was exemplary, but, alas, I did not see it. In any case, the first act of THE SELECT (after the name of a bar in the novel) is aesthetically interesting to contemplate, grappling with the tension between narrative and drama, prose and conversation, the there-and-then versus the here-and-now, but at the same time seems trapped between two media, unable to crack the ontological standoff between page and stage. After the intermission, THE SELECT becomes considerably livelier, if less challenging aesthetically, as devices that we have known since Thornton Wilder’s Our Town activate the imagination amidst a narrative structure: barroom tables become river banks and charging bulls and beds in Spanish hotel rooms.
I can’t say that THE SELECT succeeds on the aesthetic terms it sets for itself, but the last act got to me, and I have to assume that the same group’s Gatz did realize the fusion of novel and play at which they are aiming. It would (as someone once said – or should I say wrote) be pretty to think so.