The curtain Also Rises on Hemingway’s classic

Andrew Doerfler, Beacon Staff 

This week on the Paramount Mainstage, a group of expatriates will travel from Paris to Pamplona without leaving their favorite café.

The Select, an ArtsEmerson adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, follows World War I vet Jake Barnes (Mike Iveson) as he roams across Europe. But in bringing the book to the stage, theater ensemble Elevator Repair Service made the unlikely decision to confine the story’s wanderlust to a single set: the titular Café Select.

Director John Collins said in a phone interview with the Beacon that he believes this lends a degree of purity to the piece because Hemingway’s words alone conjure the distinct locations, just as they would the novel. He also felt the production’s static stage underscores the feeling of isolation carried by those in the post-war “Lost Generation.”

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“They’re lost because they don’t feel at home anywhere,” Collins said. “So it seems appropriate to me that we not deliver an elaborate or lavish set change every time they move to a different place.”

The constraints of the singular set, however, proved to be a challenge when it came to translating one of the novel’s major motifs: bullfighting. The cast resorted to staging the battles with the materials available in the café setting — a move that added a loose atmosphere to the scenes.

“There’s sort of a…playfulness that we have to adopt if we’re going to stage a bullfight using a folding table,” Collins said.

But that doesn’t mean the cast took the matador mêlées lightly — rather, the bullfighting actors, Susie Sokol and Kaneza Schaal, performed extensive research in picador techniques. The juxtaposition of intensely accurate methods with crude materials, Collins said, creates a “great clash of high and low art.”

The Select continues Elevator Repair Service’s trend of staging American literary classics, but also marks a departure from the troupe’s previous method. Its adaptation of the The Great Gatsby, entitled Gatz, ran over six hours as it presented every line and every scene of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. In the same vein, The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928) lifted a chapter of William Faulkner’s classic in its entirety.

With The Select, the company took a more traditional approach by whittling down the novel — which, Collins estimated, would last ten to twelve hours if done verbatim — to a more audience-friendly three hours and 25 minutes  (with, according to Artsemerson.org, one pause and one intermission). They wanted the production to highlight Hemingway’s dialogue, which Collins believes has “the lightest touch and the best feel for rhythm.”

Collins said that the title of The Select has “a nice added resonance in that these are bits of the book that we selected — there was a kind of culling and editing process that was new for us this time.”

Along with the new method, the novel offered Elevator Repair Service a type of character different from those in the previous two productions. Gatz and The Sound and the Fury both follow protagonists through a loss of innocence, while The Select depicts characters after their innocence is already gone.

With that corruption, though, comes a “cynical, witty sophistication” that Collins believes will reach audiences today. He finds one of the work’s most relatable aspects to be its balance of humor and loss.

“There’s a lot of fun we have with this story — a lot of dancing, people drinking… but at the same time lying beneath it all is a sense of real sadness,” Collins said. “I enjoy when those two themes criss-cross each other that way. It feels truthful.”

The Select (The Sun Also Rises) runs through March 20 on the Paramount Mainstage. Showtimes for this weekend: tonight at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday; Tickets start at $25.