Kate Scelsa, Lucy Taylor and Matt Tierney
in The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
(© Mark Burto)
Kate Scelsa, Lucy Taylor and Matt Tierney
in The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
(© Mark Burto)
In The Select (The Sun Also Rises), Elevator Repair Service's recitation-adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel, now being presented at New York Theatre Workshop, there isn't much onstage of what the famous author would likely label "good," one of the adjectives for which he's renowned and which often appears in his text. Sad to say, this three-and-a-half-hour presentation is a sorry comedown from last year's Gatz, the company's surpassing treatment of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

The problem is that the ERS troupe, guided by founder-artistic director John Collins, has treated the work as if they haven't picked up the points that Hemingway, then earning his keep as a reporter, was making about himself and peers in 1920s Paris.

If they do get his points, they simply don't think much of them and have chosen to tart them up with innumerable physical and special effects that, along with the lack of period costumes, lead to squelching almost any sense of the flowing-wine-and-pernod atmosphere.

As fans of the novel recall, The Sun Also Rises is told in the first-person by Hemingway stand-in Jake Barnes (Mike Iveson). His account follows a few weeks in the lives of several drifting expatriates -- the so-called "lost generation" -- as they fritter away time falling in sort-of-love with each other as they taxi to popular watering-holes in the French tourist spot as well as in Madrid and Pamplona.

Prominent among them are the only moderately successful Jewish novelist and former Princeton boxer Robert Cohn (Matt Tierney) and the sexually-driven Brett, Lady Ashley (Lucy Taylor). Tierney manages to suggest Cohn's melancholic response to Brett's romantic toying. But Iveson lacks sufficient charisma and Taylor hits Lady Ashley's surface behavior, but doesn't probe the depression into which the aimless character has fallen.

Many of the secondary characters are turned into caricatures. As the toreador with whom Brett dallies, Susie Sokol is haughtily taciturn. Vin Knight plays a Spanish hotelier (among other roles) as if he's channeling almost-forgotten comic Jerry Colonna. The most egregious portrait comes from Kate Scelsa, whose interpretation of Frances, Cohn's discarded paramour, as merely an unintelligible harridan is inexcusable.

Moreover, sometimes things get so cartoony that when reticent pugilist Cohn finally lands a few punches, it almost seems as if signs should drop saying "Whammo!" and "Ka-pow!" Whenever drinks are poured, the sound designers (Tierney and Ben Williams, who plays insatiable imbiber Bill Gorton) turn up gurgling noises.

While perhaps ticket buyers who don't know the book may be satisfied with this production, Hemingway aficionados will unquestionably be dismayed over what they're asked to witness.