“This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that.“ Just one of the many perfectly blended lines from Earnest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises that comes to life in its stage adaptation, The Select. The Elevator Repair Service’s third homage to great American literature, The Select takes us on a nearly four-hour tour through Paris and Pamploma with an entertaining troupe of expats who measure out their lives in wine bottles. Our narrator is Jake Barnes (Mike Iveson), a smart-alecky but gregarious chap who doesn’t let much ruffle him, not even an injury in the first World War that rendered him impotent. The only force that gets beneath his skin is Lady Brett Ashley (a radiant Lucy Taylor). The fact that their relationship always teeters between friends and lovers lends a romantic “what if” element to every scene that features the two of them. The natural chemistry between them was among my favorite parts of the play – from the way they seem to have a secret understanding to their adorable dance to a French pop song. (I confess, I always love a dance interlude and this show has two of them.)
Director John Collins makes phenomenal use of his stellar cast. The actors who play several characters apiece are in no way secondary to this production. They create the idiosyncratic world of Café Select and the bullfighting ring, of old friends and temporary lovers. And Collins gives each actor the opportunity to explore his or her range. While the show goes on a bit too long, it’s nonetheless filled with one inventive scene after another, incorporating an ingenious use of sound design to celebrate the familiar pours and clinks heard in one’s favorite bar. The way Collins utilizes the space is equally clever; an ordinary folding table is believable as a big fish, an angry bull, and a hotel bed.
ERS’ enthusiasm for great literature is contagious and inspired me (as I’m sure many others) to dust off a few Hemingway novels and approach the writer’s trademark language with new perspective. Interesting how some of the lines that can seem so cold on the page become something rich and fluid with the right production.