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Reviewed by:
  • The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
  • Dan Venning
The Select (The Sun Also Rises). Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Directed by John Collins. Elevator Repair Service, New York Theatre Workshop, New York City. 8 October 2011.

Elevator Repair Service (ERS), founded in 1991 by John Collins, was originally a downtown New York avant-garde troupe that created idiosyncratic performances filled with oddball humor and shows that inevitably led to bizarre dance sequences. However, since their 2006 production Gatz (which centers around a verbatim reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby), they have gained international fame, touring around the world and performing at significant Off-Broadway venues, such as the Public Theater and New York Theatre Workshop. Several of their most recent productions, including Gatz (reviewed in the October 2007 issue [vol. 59, no. 3] of Theatre Journal, pp. 508–9) and their 2008 The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928), rely on the texts of “great American novels” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, respectively. Similarly, The Select (The Sun Also Rises) was adapted from Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel about American and British expatriates in Paris who take a trip to Pamplona to see bullfights. The Select, titled after one of the many Parisian cafés that the characters frequent, was a meditation on nostalgia, disappearance, and loss filtered through ERS’s signature lens of overt theatricality. By exploring these themes—characters’ loss of love, the audience’s nostalgia for this signature American novel, and ERS’s bittersweet conclusion to its trilogy of American literary playsCollins and his company examined the instability of fraught remembrances, whether of the novel or of past ERS shows, or both.

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Lucy Taylor (Brett Ashley), Mike Iveson (Jake Barnes), and the cast of The Select (The Sun Also Rises). (Photo: Mark Burton.)

The plot of The Select follows Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises closely. The text for The Select comes directly from the novel (and at first included even incidental comments like “I said” or “she said”), but unlike ERS’s earlier Gatz, The Select is not a performance of the full text verbatim, but an adaptation that runs a little over three hours. The narrator, Jake Barnes, is an American journalist living in Paris. Jake has been rendered impotent through an injury (it is unclear whether its nature is psychological or physical) sustained during World War I, but he is in love with Lady Brett Ashley, a British divorcée. She also seems to be in love with Jake despite having a Scottish fiancée, Mike Campbell, and numerous other sexual partners throughout the story, including the American Jewish writer Robert Cohn, the European Count Mippipopolous, and the 19-year-old bullfighter Pedro Romero. Together, this group of expatriates travels to Pamplona to watch [End Page 435] bullfighting; along the way, Jake enjoys a respite of sobriety and fly-fishing with his friend Bill Gorton. In Pamplona, Brett seduces the star bullfighter, but that relationship quickly goes sour and Jake comes to rescue her. The story concludes in Madrid, as the two imagine the sort of love affair they might have had if Jake were not impotent. Hemingway’s novel is written in the past tense and ERS similarly invoked the idea of memory in all aspects of the production, whether through design choices, metatheatrical directorial choices, or the actors’ work as an ensemble.

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Mike Iveson (Jake Barnes), Frank Boyd (Harvey Stone), and Ben Williams (Bill Gorton) in The Select (The Sun Also Rises). (Photo: Mark Burton.)

ERS drew attention to the instability—perhaps inebriated—qualities of recollection through David Zinn’s economical set, which centered on a plethora of empty liquor bottles. At the opening of the show, the tables were covered with mostly empty bottles and glasses with the remnants of variously colored liquids. A shelf ran around the perimeter of the stage above the actors that was filled with empty bottles of whiskey, gin, wine, beer, and champagne. Cast members moved tables and chairs to transform the space into a dance hall, apartments, taxis, a Spanish...


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