A federal bureaucrat slips away from the office a couple of days a week for an exotic out-of-town moonlighting gig — but don’t worry, no scandal here.
Because by all accounts, Ross Fletcher has been getting the job done — not only on his day shift as chief of staff for Washington’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center but onstage as well. For the past six years, the cardiologist has appeared off-Broadway and in theaters around the world in “Gatz,” a critically acclaimed, eight-hour adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.”
Despite having no acting experience, Fletcher was cast in the groundbreaking production — the script does not cut a single word of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel — for a simple reason:
“They were looking for someone,” he told us, “who looked like my son’s father.” His son, Jim Fletcher, plays Jay Gatsby. Ross Fletcher plays the small but pivotal role of Gatsby’s father.
It’s been a very good week for both Fletchers: On Monday, Jim (a graduate of Springbrook High School) won an Obie Award for his “sustained excellence” in “Gatz.” And on Sunday, Ross received an honorary degree at Georgetown University’s School of Medicine for his research with electronic health records.
The most recent staging of “Gatz,” at Manhattan’s Public Theater, closed last week after a two-month run that had Ross Fletcher boarding a train in D.C. several days a week at 3 p.m. — roughly the same time his co-stars were taking the stage in NYC — so he could arrive in time for his character’s entrance in the play’s “fourth quarter,” as he put it.
Fletcher, 75, told us he always made it back to the office every weekday in time for the hospital’s morning meeting (“I never miss the morning report”) and used his time on the train to get work done — including a new scholarly paper about to be published in the medical journal Circulation. He will, though, take vacation time when “Gatz” moves overseas for a five-week engagement in London’s West End.
Fletcher hesitated before taking his first acting role — but his son assured him that after a long career as a lecturer, he had much of the necessary performance technique, and he’s come to see the similarities.
“When you are a teacher, you do your best to maintain your audience and keep them interested in what you are saying,” Fletcher said. And actors must cast the same spell over their audiences that teachers do over their students: “They have to believe in what you’re saying.”
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