MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we've been talking about commitment. We visited some fully committed restaurants. We've heard about a growing commitment to adding more bridges across the Potomac and in just a bit we'll head to an island that people are committing to saving with a little help from Bluegrass music.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
To kick off this part of the show though we're going to focus on professional commitment, the kind that keeps you devoted to your job or jobs, plural, as in the case of the Washingtonian we'll meet next who's currently appearing in "GATZ," a ground-breaking theatrical adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," now playing at New York's Public Theater. Over the course of seven odd hours and that includes two intermissions and a dinner break, 13 actors present the 1925 novel in its entirety.
MR. SCOTT SHEPHERD AS NICK CARRAWAY
I turned again to my new acquaintance, this is an unusual party for me. I haven't even seen the host. I live over there. I waved my hand at the invisible hedge in the distance and this man, Gatsby, sent over his chauffer with an invitation. For a moment he looked at me as if he failed to understand.
MR. JIM FLETCHER AS J. GATSBY
He said suddenly. What, I exclaimed, oh, I beg your pardon.
I thought you knew old sport? I'm afraid I'm not a very good host.
That's Scott Shepherd in the role of Nick Carraway and Jim Fletcher in the role of our title, the mysterious tycoon, J. Gatsby or Jim Gatz, which we eventually learn is his real name. We also eventually learn Jim Gatz has a father and that's where our double dutying Washingtonian comes in.
DR. ROSS FLETCHER
I'm Ross Fletcher and happen to be Jim's dad.
But Ross doesn't just mean Jim Gatz's dad in the play, he also means Jim Fletcher's dad in real life.
That's the role I've been playing for many years.
But here's the thing, while the rest of the cast, including Jim, lives in New York, Ross resides in D.C., where he holds down a pretty important job at the Veteran's Affairs Medical Center.
I've been at that hospital since 1972. I was initially the chief of cardiology. I am now the chief of staff, that's been for the last 12, 13 years.
But for the last seven years, he's been appearing in "GATZ." In fact, when I spoke with him and his son, they were in New York at the Public Theater on a dinner break from their Wednesday performance. I wanted to hear more about what it's like to commit to so many roles, you know, doctor, actor, father. But I started things off by asking Dr. Fletcher how imminent cardiologist came to act in a seven hour marathon production.
Well, the story is relatively obvious. I was typecast. I have no previous acting experience so they were looking for someone that looked like my son's father and I fit that role.
And so Jim, what was your reaction when you found your father would be not just in the show with you, but playing the role of your on-stage dad?
MR. JIM FLETCHER
I like to know that he's following in my footsteps and I was very interested. I mean, I've seen him perform all my life. I used to work for him at the VA hospital when I was a kid. I would run the slides for his talks and so I've seen him many times and it is a beautiful performance capability that he has.
Dr. Fletcher, how did your colleagues at work react when they found out that the chief of staff was going to become an off-Broadway actor?
Well, I initially made a specific request of the director of the hospital and I asked him two things. One was, could I grow a beard because it seemed critical to the role and I also told him the time that I would likely be spending and he endorsed it very strongly, actually came up to see one of the early shows here in New York and thought it was very good. I think my colleagues in general are surprised, pleased and go out their way to make sure that this can happen and I have had a lot of help.
Well, how does it all work logistically, given that you live and work in Washington and you're doing the show in New York? I mean, that is one heck of a commute.
Well, it is a little and on a Wednesday, which is today, it is particularly interesting in that I get on a train at the time the play starts. This is a long play, so by the time I get to New York, it's still just intermission. It's halfway through the play and then I can rest for another hour or so before I come on, which is in the last quarter of the play. The problem then comes how do get back by the next morning and our play ends after 11:00 and the last train out is at 11:00. I can't catch that so I often have to wait until the 3:00 train and go into the hospital at that time.
You say 3:00 o'clock, we're talking 3:00 a.m.
And Dr. Fletcher, I understand you've never missed a performance, not one, in seven years?
Not one. We're on the 147th performance and I have been in all 147 performances, as, of course, has Jim.
And Jim, I want to turn to you. What's it like acting with your dad?
Well, I guess people generally know that Gatsby gets killed towards the end of the book, but yet there's still another two hours or so left and so I'm actually dead on stage while my father is acting and so I never get to see him, but I do get to hear him and feel him as he comes very close. He has a line, where have they got Jimmy? And then he comes around and inspects me closely where I do my best to play absolutely dead. I know he's a physician so he's looking for all the vital signs of life and I'm trying to cut them all off.
But acting with my dad is wonderful. With my eyes shut on the couch, often at that point of the show, I'm trying to stay awake, but when he starts talking, it is very soothing and it brings me back. It's so primal for me and if I'm going to fall asleep, that's the part where it happens, not out of lack of lack of interest, but of deep comfort.
That's lovely. So Dr. Fletcher, did you read stories to Jim when he was growing up?
Yes, many times.
How then has this acting experience or being in this show together, how has it affected your real life father-son relationship?
I think it is true that, as Jim pointed out, that I am following in his footsteps. He actually once told my wife, Dad used to take me to his work. Now I take him to my work. So the role is distinctly different and wonderful. What he does on stage is truly remarkable. He has a prodigious memory for the words, but also can express them in a very solid emotional way. He's a very generous person and people really love him and I obviously do as well.
Well, you two need to get back on stage pretty darn quick, but thanks so much to both of you for taking the time during your dinner break to do this interview. I really appreciate it.
Well, thanks a lot, Rebecca, that's great.
Thank you very much.
That was Jim Fletcher and Dr. Ross Fletcher, talking with me from the Public Theater in New York City. "GATZ" runs at the Public through May 13th, at which point, it heads to London. For photos from the show and ticket information, visit our website, metroconnection.org. And by the way, Jim asked for a little shout out to his alma mater, Spring Brook High School, in Silver Spring. Go Blue Devils.
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