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Elevator Repair Service tackles Hemingway

Road trip
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  March 18, 2011

Elevator Repair Service tackles Hemingway
OLÉ! ERS has fun with the booze-fueled atmosphere of The Sun Also Rises, but it also takes seriously these unmoored characters’ seldom-acknowledged drift. 

It's a tough assignment: to create a forward-moving play out of the tightly orchestrated aimlessness that is Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. The 1926 novel moves from the boîtes of Paris to the bullrings of Pamplona despite having characters — notably American expat journalist Jake Barnes and the captivating but restless Lady Brett Ashley — who don't go anywhere. Elevator Repair Service's poignant and whimsical if voluminous The Select (The Sun Also Rises), which was developed in part during a 2010 residency at ArtsEmerson and returns fully fledged to that presenter's Paramount Mainstage (through March 20), goes the distance without leaving the Left Bank café of the title — here a wainscoted lair dominated by two long tables and enough liquor bottles to choke Eugene O'Neill. At the climax of the evocative if unwieldy work, one of the tables will acquire a set of horns and do huffing, snorting battle with smoldering boy matador Pedro Romero (inexplicably played by a woman).

Elevator Repair Service is, of course, the New York–based troupe that last year brought us Gatz, the marathon two-part theater piece whose text consists of The Great Gatsby read in its entirety against the backdrop of a dingy workplace whose denizens are more likely to sniff white-out than swill champagne. The Select has no such filter — and no such sub-theme as the transformative power of language and art. It's an inventive if bar-bound adaptation of Hemingway's peripatetic novel, complete with loads of terse authorial voice emanating from the liquor-lubricated throat of Jake Barnes. Mike Iveson's unflappable Jake narrates both from a downstage chair facing us and from the midst of an amplified fray — the performers wear headsets — that includes frenzied, mechanistic dancing and playful sound effects (a lot of cork popping and glug-glug pouring and, when pugilism breaks out, whams worthy of Popeye). ERS has fun with the novel's booze-fueled atmosphere, but it also takes seriously these unmoored characters' seldom-acknowledged drift.

Hemingway's novel (not his best) is a sort of road map for what Gertrude Stein dubbed the Lost Generation, who made their way across post-WW1 Europe on little money and less conviction. The book's primarily American and Anglo characters navigate France and Spain with neither purpose nor moral compass, stretching to a thin thread their strident good time. Despite the lovesick sufferings of suitor Robert Cohn, who won't go away after Brett casts him off, and her seduction of teen matador Romero, the story's one enduring empathy is between the sensual Brett and Jake, whose emasculating war injury frustrates their liaison. Is it any wonder, then, that Hemingway stand-in Jake embraces the afición of the Spanish for their giddy fiesta and bullish blood sport?

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  Topics: Theater , Theater, Arts, Ernest Hemingway,  More more >
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