Entertainment » Theatre

The Select (The Sun Also Rises)

by Ellen Wernecke
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Sep 15, 2011
Mike Iveson, Frank Boyd, and Ben Williams in "The Select (The Sun Also Rises)")
Mike Iveson, Frank Boyd, and Ben Williams in "The Select (The Sun Also Rises)")  (Source:Mark Burton)

Whether or not they set out to do so, the Brooklyn-based theater company with the retroriffic name of Elevator Repair Service has positioned itself perfectly as a literary darling. As its epic performance "Gatz" (a reading of "The Great Gatsby" set in a modern office) struggled for a toehold in the New York theater scene due to estate issues -- it finally found a sold-out berth at the Public last fall -- out-of-town critics swooned at the revelations wrung out of the oft-assigned classic.

2008's "The Sound And The Fury (April Seventh, 1928)" took a less ambitious bite out of Faulkner's work, shoveling sleight-of-hand into a frenetic performance of the book's first section. And the company's latest undertaking, another canon reinvention taking on no less than Ernest Hemingway, arrives at New York Theatre Workshop on the heels of a site-specific project in May to celebrate, where else? The New York Public Library.

The Select (The Sun Also Rises) has already been described as the last work in an American-lit trilogy. Let's hope not. Based on "The Sun Also Rises," the play, directed by John Collins, discards very little (if any) of Hemingway's original words. Rather it mines them for contemplation instead of skimming over their terseness, and in doing so strips the work of the baggage associated with authorial designation.

Exquisitely faithful without dipping into homage, "The Select" is named for one of Jake Barnes' favorite Paris haunts. The set reflects that, with few pieces moved in and out, washed out only by the pageantry of the San Fermin festival to where Jake and his pals are inerrably drawn. Mostly, it's the story of a guy at a bar -- and then another bar -- and another bar, with occasional feints at a life between and outside them.

A sympathetic Hemingway man is a stretch, but Mike Iverson along with the rest of the excellent cast pull it off till the last draught is drained.

While "The Select" occasionally dips into the freneticism of "The Sound And The Fury (April Seventh, 1928)," particularly in the Charles Mee-esque anachronistic dance breaks, Mike Iverson narrating as Jake often seems to be the stillness around which his world revolves.

His yearning plays to the audience as less specifically directed at Brett (the pixyish Lucy Taylor), his former nurse turned friend and longtime object of affection, than the desire to stop the whirling and make it all change.

With a bartender always at his elbow and another place to go, Barnes wants nothing more than for everything around him to be different -- and Iverson is so subtle and terrific (for a man supporting the entire performance) he wins us over as we hardly realizes, distracted by the world reflected in his sad eyes.

A sympathetic Hemingway man is a stretch, but Iverson along with the rest of the excellent cast pull it off till the last draught is drained.

"The Select (The Sun Also Rises)" runs through October 9 at the New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th St. For info or tickets call 212-780-9037 or visit www.nytw.org

Ellen Wernecke’s work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and The Onion A.V. Club, and she comments on books regularly for WEBR’s "Talk of the Town with Parker Sunshine." A Wisconsin native, she now lives in New York City.

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