Few eras have had as much of an impact on the United States as the Roaring Twenties - that time in the early 20th century where the American people felt invincible, their ambitions as headstrong and passionate as the jazz music that swelled through the speakers of their new household radios. That golden period of time is what a group of theatre students at Toll Gate High School aim to invoke in their production of The Great Gatsby, a play adapted by Simon Levy from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 novel of the same name. With two shows set for Saturday, Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Toll Gate’s Robert J. Shapiro Cultural Arts Center, the tragic love story of young millionaire Jay Gatsby and former debutante Daisy Buchanan will be told again as the original novel’s 100th anniversary is on the horizon. Tickets will be $10 at the door, for both shows.
Abby Wildgoose, the play’s director and driving creative force, chose to stage a theatre production for her senior project in order to explore her love for performing arts. After being introduced to The Great Gatsby through her junior year English course, Wildgoose hoped to revisit the story in a new way, through a different medium; staging a play offered that opportunity. Her production is unique in that it is entirely student-directed, with only minimal required adult supervision; as a result, both more creative freedom and more responsibilities were major factors to take into account. With four years of experience in Toll Gate’s Drama Club to draw from, she set out to take on the challenge of running a production rather than just being in one.
Taking place on Long Island in the summer of 1922, Gatsby tells the story of a mysterious man of immense wealth, portrayed by Liam Roberts, named Jay Gatsby – a man about whom his neighbors cannot stop speculating as he throws extravagant parties he does not participate in. Nick Carraway, portrayed by Michael Graves, is a scholar who eventually befriends Gatsby and narrates Gatsby’s rekindled love with gorgeous socialite Daisy Buchanan, portrayed by Arianna Izzi. The story has been described as a commentary on American ideals and the changing social expectations of the time period.
“I fell in love with the story,” said Wildgoose. “It represented the American Dream above everything else.” She went on to explain how she began making plans to stage Gatsby in March, and how she has had to consider many new factors as the person in charge rather than a student of the drama club. The freedom to “experiment” and “get creative” has provided her and the cast with an opportunity to work much more closely together as they get their ideas on the table and brainstorm ways to make them fit. Their regular rehearsals, taking place over the summer at the Warwick Public Library, allowed their camaraderie to shine through.
Wildgoose hopes that the audience will connect with the characters and learn from their “struggles with the past” as they navigate the present.
Liam Roberts, a senior and four-year drama club member, describes his character of Jay Gatsby as “a living tragedy, somebody who is blinded by love” during his romantic pursuit of the elusive Daisy. While initially a difficult character to play due to his time period and unfathomable wealth, Roberts stated that Jay Gatsby becomes easier to understand when slipping into the mindset of someone obsessed with something he can’t have; a human failing that Roberts feels the audience can connect with.
“I want [the audience] to appreciate the story as a whole and relate to the characters,” he said.
Michael Graves, who will portray Nick Carraway, hopes that the show will prove that classic literature can still be absorbed today: “It’s not all boring. It has meaning behind it.” Arianna Izzi, who will portray Daisy Buchanan, believes that even those who have not read the book or gotten to know the characters before will still be able to appreciate their story.
Besides a few donations from teachers supporting the production, the play has been funded out-of-pocket by Wildgoose. After ticket sales are used to offset the production costs, the remaining money will be sent to charity; Wildgoose says that she is considering No Kid Hungry, an organization that provides meals for children who cannot access regular meals.
The cast includes Liam Roberts as Jay Gatsby, Arianna Izzi as Daisy Buchanan, Michael Graves as Nick Carraway, Berit Olsson as Jordan Baker, Tripper Normand as Tom Buchanan, Jessica Joyce as Myrtle Wilson, Jaedon Cole as George Wilson, Tyler DaSilva as Meyer Wolfsheim, Owen Johns as Chester McKee, Grace Hamilton as Mrs. McKee, Sabrina Demgel as Mrs. Michaelis, Nuteng Thao as Policeman, and Hailey Clark, Anya Vollucci, and Mackenzie Houllahan as Flappers. Shannon Roberts and Justin Caron will serve as head of backstage and head of tech, respectively.
The Gatsby production cast and crew would like to thank Mr. Hodge, Toll Gate’s drama advisor, for providing supervision for the project.