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Staging the belated classic "The Great Gatsby" at Tacoma Little Theatre

Winter dreams

"The Great Gatsby": Veronica Tuttell as Daisy Buchanan and Rodman Bolek as Jay Gatbsy. Photo courtesy: DK Photography

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I'm about to tell you a story, only one detail of which will be slightly untrue. See if you can guess which it is.

Between 1922 and 1925, author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a novel called Winter Dreams. It was published in April 1925, selling less than 20,000 copies and earning mixed reviews in its first year on shelves. H. L. Mencken, in his Chicago Daily Tribune review, called the book "no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that." Fitzgerald was enormously disappointed by the response, blaming it on the lack of an admirable distaff character who'd appeal to female readers. He earned a mere $2,000 from actual sales of the novel. Fifteen years later, and not without reason, he died believing his work had all but vanished from the public eye.

Did you figure it out? In 1922, Fitzgerald wrote a short story called "Winter Dreams," which formed the basis for his most celebrated novel. Other than the novel's title, however, every other detail was true. Fitzgerald did meet his Maker with every reason to believe The Great Gatsby would vanish into obscurity. What Fitzgerald couldn't know is that during World War II, paperback copies of the book (among many others) were handed out free to U.S. soldiers, who lapped it up by the hundreds of thousands. It has since sold more than 25 million copies, and is considered among the greatest of all American novels. Perhaps you caught the recent Leonardo DiCaprio movie? (I did not. Was it good?)

In any case, there's only one stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby authorized by the Fitzgerald estate, and it opens this weekend at Tacoma Little Theatre. "Gatsby itself is a difficult story to bring to the stage," notes TLT artistic director Chris Serface. "There are so many different nuances and locations." I ask him about stage director Dale Westgaard's approach to the material. "Since the story is so character driven," he replied, "we are focusing more on the actors. To take us from location to location, we are utilizing projections and set pieces that double in other scenes. It helps the story flow seamlessly from scene to scene.

"Another exciting thing that we are doing with this production," Serface continued, "is ‘Explore Gatsby.'" That project may be found here. "This virtual world," Serface says, "will invite viewers to experience TLT (digitally) and give them the opportunity to learn more about the production and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Judy Cullen is spearheading the production and having a blast with it."

As an author myself, I'm sympathetic when writers have no idea how much of an impact their efforts may have made. I think it's safe to say Fitzgerald will be thrilled. And if TLT's stage production is anything like last year's adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, I think local audiences will be pretty excited, too.

Ed. note: Due to overwhelming requests from patrons who are also Seahawks fans, TLT has moved their matinee start time Sunday, Feb. 1, to noon, and are offering a special $12 ticket special for anyone who uses the code SEAHAWKS either at online checkout or at the box office. This special only applies to new ticket orders.

THE GREAT GATSBY, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 8, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, $15-$22, 253.272.2281

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