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'The Select' ('The Sun Also Rises'): Good but Long

The new play at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) Lansburgh Theater, The Select (The Sun Also Rises) is definitely worth seeing for many reasons; but it’s way too long. With a first act of one hour and fifteen minutes and a second act of one hour and forty-five minutes the production could have easily been shortened by at least thirty minutes and you wouldn’t have felt cheated in any way. In his Director’s Note in the program John Collins talked about how when the Company first set out to take this Hemingway book and turn it into a play they wrestled with the chore of turning a 260 page book into a two and a half hour play using Hemingway’s words. Obviously he decided in the end two and a half hours wasn’t enough; I think it clearly would have been.

The Shakespeare is hosting this production by the Elevator Repair Service Company which is based in New York City. They create productions with an ongoing ensemble and that ensemble includes some brilliant actors. Deciding to use Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises as the basis for a production was an interesting choice. It is such a well-known book and because of that many people have the characters and locations already envisioned in their mind. So using Hemingway’s words the company had to also produce a set that was believable to both those who had and those who hadn’t read the book. It meant they had to produce sets to match Hemingway’s descriptive vision of a Paris café, a lazy day of trout fishing, a bullfight, and the excitement of the Pamplona Festival and have people believe it. This they did brilliantly use simply design and incredible sound effects. When you can accept the use of a folding table with horns as a bull; see trout jumping out of a stream behind the main set and laugh but still understand it; you know they succeeded.

David Zinn is the man who did the superb job of designing the scenery and the costumes. His imagination shines through the entire set and the costumes bring back the time Hemingway spent in Europe. He has joined a wonderful sense of humor and reality combining to complete the vision he has created for the production. Matt Tierney’s sound design is brilliant. In so many ways it enhances the production and you are amazed each time you hear a new sound to represent everything from shaving with a straight razor, pouring a drink, running water to clean the dishes, or the relaxed feeling one gets when Jake sits with his fishing rod along the river.

Then there are the actors. Mike Iverson as Jake Barnes is incredible. The amount of dialogue he has is mindboggling as Hemingway’s narrator in the story. He is in every scene and his voice and his movement are both so integral to believing what is on the stage. That wonderful use of movement and dialogue from all the actors is worth the price of admission. Nearly all the actors in the Company play more than one role and that includes John Collins who both directs the production and is Robert Cohn. Stephanie Hayes is the perfect Brett Ashley. She is the beauty everyone loves and conveys both her ability to seduce and the actual blasé woman who has been married and divorced a number of times and just seems bored with it all. She is looking for love and eventually seems to give up and accepts being with another man she knows is wrong, Mike Campbell, played wonderfully by Pete Simpson. You get She knows he is really just a substitute because she can’t come to grips with her love for Jake.

So yes I recommend seeing The Select (The Sun Also Rises) but go knowing it sometimes can seem like an overly long night in the theater.