May 11, 2012

Gatz, The Great Gatsby, and the business of business card design

A lot of years ago I attended a Thai film festival in New York where I caught I-san Special, an experimental film by Mingmongkol Sonakul. Almost the entire film takes place on a local overnight bus trip from Bangkok to a town in Thailand's northeast. A soap opera set in a luxury hotel plays on the radio; gradually the passengers assume the roles of the characters on the radio and play out their parts on the bus. Occasionally the bus stops for breaks and the travellers return to themselves. It's as if the bus weaves a spell around them and they become other people once they embark.

A similar magic surrounds Elevator Repair Service's Gatz (now on at the Public Theater). A man walks into a dishevelled office, sits at his desk, and struggles with his computer. In his rollodex he finds a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and begins to read. His officemates walk in and out, performing their daily duties. As he becomes more absorbed in the book, he assumes the role of Nick Carroway and his colleagues follow, filling out the various roles. Eight hours later (with a dinner break thrown in to stave off starvation) he reaches the final lines of the novel and bids the audience adieu.

Anchored by Scott Shepherd's performance as the narrator/Nick Carroway, the play is a fantastic reading of the novel (in spectacular, live-action 3D!), and I found myself discovering new aspects of the book, owing to the dramatization. Shepherd is outstanding in a role that never lets him leave the stage; he is eye of the storm, and a large part of play's success is due to his performance. If only the entire cast could ascend to his level, the evening would be transcendent.

Last night, I met some friends at the Type Director's Club for a talk by the Heads of State. It was an engaging presentation of their work and their philosophies on work, design, and illustration. As part of their talk they spoke of the time they set aside for each of them to do a personal project within the studio, unbounded by client constraints or desires.

One such project took on the fourth chapter of The Great Gatsby, wherein the narrator recites a litany of houseguests that attended Jay Gatsby's parties that summer. The partners decided to create businesscards or calling cards for each of the guests, which they then assembled into a limited edition poster. The results are glorious, and I finally got around to ordering one after the talk.

In other news, what about Baz Lurhmann? The Great Gatsby in 3D coming soon to a theater near you! With Amitabh Bachchan as Meyer Wolfshem!

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