If you haven’t read it, you’ve at least been acquainted with “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel about self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby and his vain pursuit of his former love interest, Daisy Buchanan. Since its publication in 1925, “The Great Gatsby” has certainly proved its staying power — but for a novel about the glorification of the past, even it probably knows it could use some modern reimagining.
Local playwright Dani Stoller’s new play “The Pursued, The Pursuing, The Busy And The Tired,” does just that. Focusing on high schooler Jason Carraway who recently enrolled at the elite Dalton Prep, the show follows his journey as he attempts to achieve his dreams of becoming a social media influencer and flaunting his newly discovered lavish lifestyle.
Representing the nuanced trials and tribulations of the modern social media user is certainly no easy task, but Stoller has taken it on boldly and graciously with the help of a cohort of talented teenagers, of course.
“The young people really jumped in with both feet, which has been a blessing,” Stoller says. “They’re a great group of people.”
Signature In the Schools, Signature Theatre’s flagship education program, is to thank for this serendipitous union. Since 1995, it’s been offering students the chance to participate in world premiere plays put on by theater professionals that relate to their school curriculum. “The Pursued, The Pursuing,” offers high schoolers the chance to deepen their understanding of both “The Great Gatsby” and the professional theatre world.
The production hasn’t only been a learning experience for the high schoolers, but also for Stoller. She’s “been writing forever,” but this is her first year with Signature in the Schools which pushed her into a positive new writing experience.
“It’s really different from anything I’ve ever done before, because you don’t write anything until you’ve met the kids,” she says. “You see them audition, and then from there, you decide how you’re going to write it. We knew there were certain things that would be intact: we would obviously have a Nick, and we would have a Gatsby, and we would have a Daisy. But beyond that, it was anything goes.”
While seeing the young actors influenced the trajectory of the characters, the original plot idea came during a virtual conversation between Stoller and Signature’s Director of Education David Zobell.
“I said [to David], look at your computer. See the green light?” she says. “[In the novel], the green light is this aspirational quality. So [I said], I think we should set it in the world of social media. I wanted it to be satirical, utilizing how you look at this ‘green light’ in an Instagram square or an Instagram story, and how you can become something out of nothing just by what you portray.”
Stoller hopes “The Pursued, The Pursuing,” will allow audiences to reflect on how social media use affects their daily lives, and ultimately, internalize the idea change is possible — a sentiment of hope that is not so present in the original novel.
“In the book, one of my favorite parts is that Nick gets to tell Jay, ‘They’re a rotten crowd, you’re better than the whole bunch of them,’” she says. “I don’t know if Jay believes it in the book, because he is still waiting for the call. But in [“The Pursued, The Pursuing,”] Nick gets to speak her piece in a way that she doesn’t in the novel. It becomes more of a call to action, for self-actualization and introspection, for nuance and for a release of this constant worry about the world existing within this tiny phone. I think it’s more hopeful.”
And there’s no one who can represent this beautiful idealism better than young people.
“They’re so full of wanting to make this world better,” she says. “You can’t help but look at it and be very inspired. I think that these kids are rockstars, and everyone should come see it.”
Dani Stoller’s world-premiere play “The Pursued, The Pursuing, The Busy and The Tired” is showing at the Signature Theatre Monday, January 24 at 7 p.m. and Friday, January 28 at 8 p.m. For more information and to buy tickets, visit here.
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