Review: The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
The Lost Generation we ain’t. We’ve had our share of secondhand devastation, sure, but nothing on par with the stuff that the shell-shocked, soul-dispossessed twenty- and thirtysomethings that populate The Sun Also Rises went through.
Yet in The Select, Elevator Repair Service’s stage adaptation of the post-World War I classic, Hemingway’s characters are all, well… hipsters. Protagonist Jake Barnes (Mike Iveson) laces his narration with the casual derision of a bored blogger; damaged ingénue Brett Ashley (Lucy Taylor) looks like she just stepped out of an American Apparel shoot. You almost expect someone to mutter, “Bullfighting? Yeah, I liked it better before it went mainstream.”
Lost Generation to Gen Y is an unlikely parallel to draw, but the members of John Collins’ collaborative NYC company are sort of the experts at pulling classic American literature down unlikely byways. E.R.S. was last seen in town when the company performed Gatz at the A.R.T. last year, a two-part, six-hour-long take on The Great Gatsby set in a dingy office space.
Gatz worked against all odds, and so does The Select. Three and a half hours long and containing a healthy chunk of Hemingway’s words lifted straight from the page, The Select is slow to grab you. But once it does, E.R.S.’s show pulls you along, like a friend dragging you from bar to bar long past your bedtime.
Since the events of The Sun Also Rises go down almost entirely in drinking establishments anyway, it’s fitting that The Select is set in a bar. Long, beer pong-style tables become everything from mattresses to angry bulls, and someone’s always doing tricks with a bottle in the background or spilling a glass of cheap port.
Hemingway’s story, of listless American and British expats down and out in Paris and Pamplona, comes out like a tall tale told long and slurred over too many sherrys. The atmosphere is built by Matt Tierney and Ben Williams’ vivid sound design, full of pours and gurgles and half-heard music from another room.
E.R.S.’s ten-person cast cultivates a casual listlessness—they shout over the music when it gets too loud and mumble drunken nothings into each other’s hair. You feel like you could stumble onstage yourself, grab a drink and join right in. Hemingway’s terse, witty dialogue works fairly perfectly onstage, particularly in this setting.
It all seems so laid-back, but really, we’re watching a marathon in action. The sheer amount of words Iveson has to spout out as Jake is enough to make any actor quake, but he makes it look easy. The Select is all about a precision so calculated that it looks like life simply unfolding.
Sure, this hipsterfied version of The Sun Also Rises doesn’t go as deep as it could; it’s the lighter side of Hemingway, all of the anesthesia with none of the true pain. But it’s still a remarkable piece of collaborative theater, one that brings us closer to the text than any more traditional adaptation ever could.