As you settle into your seat before the start of The Select (The Sun Also Rises), you may find yourself wondering if Elevator Repair Service has developed Attention Deficit Disorder. After all, the performance you're about to see is only three and a half hours long—less than half the length of their last production, a word-for-word adaptation of The Great Gatsby. But have faith, lovers of long-form theatrical epics: what The Select lacks in length it makes up for in depth, and unless you're an authority on Ernest Hemingway's classic novel, you probably won't notice what's been excised from this otherwise faithful interpretation.
Following the same approach that made Gatz last season's smash hit, director John Collins takes Hemingway's text verbatim (with careful cuts), using it as a literal springboard into a imaginative recreation of the famous novel, which concerns a group of expatriates debauching themselves in Paris and Pamplona in the wake of WWI. Actor Mike Iveson brings a dry, subtle wit to the role of narrator Jake Barnes, a gentlemanly American journalist left impotent from a war injury. Through Jake's sardonic eyes we experience the fumbling decadence of his mostly idle social circle, and the gang's all here on stage: Lucy Taylor plays the brittle man-eater Brett Ashley, who holds the sniveling Robert Cohn (Matt Tierney) in her thrall, as well as pretty much every other gent in the story.
It's a jaunty, ingenuous adaptation, with uniformly stellar performances. Pete Simpson is wickedly nasty as Ashley's latest squeeze Mike Campbell (and he also puts his Blue Man Group percussion skills to good use during a wild second act fiesta dance sequence), the hilarious Vin Knight steals just about every scene with a variety of roles ranging from Count Mippipopolous to the shrewd Pamplona concierge Montoya, Susie Sokol is a scream as the charismatic toreador Pedro Romero, and Kate Scelsa delivers an unforgettably petulant rant as Cohn's jilted lover Frances. It's hard to think of another theater collective that boasts a more fascinating a stable of actors than Elevator Repair Service.
As in Gatz, the ensemble evokes the novel's world with minimal props and maximum ingenuity; as they drink and eat their way through Europe, cafes become bedrooms, chairs become taxis, tables become trout. By simply suggesting the subtle outlines of a world—rather than presenting a naturalistic version of it—Collins invites the spectators to paint the rest of the picture with their own imaginations. It's no accident that this is the same thing we do when we read, and what's so marvelous about The Select is that the actors and the audience collectively re-imagine Hemingway's world, in real time.
Late in the performance, a woman behind me audibly gasped as a bruised Pedro Romero was very nearly gored by a ferocious bull in the ring, as the bullfighting crowd cheered lustily. Of course, the "ring" was no different in appearance from the same lazy cafe where all of The Select's action takes place, and the macho bullfighter was actually the petite Sokol (who was so funny in Gatz as professional golfer Jordan Baker). The bull was represented by a long folding table with cartoonish horns attached to one end. And when Romero finally killed it, for a brief, delicious moment, I felt very sorry for the magnificent beast.