Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gertrude Stein and a Companion

This past Tuesday, I finally got to see our sister show, Gertrude Stein and a Companion, running just down the hall in SFU Woodward's Studio D until this Saturday.

Having only heard a very little about the show from Kugler over the past year, I was amazed to discover the parallels between our two works. Both Gertrude and Objecthood are two-handers that combine presentational/lecture-style address to the audience with more intimate moments of dialogue between their respective acting couples. Both also combine movement, projections, music/sound, and lighting/design as part of a larger interdisciplinary aesthetic, while also still reveling in the pleasures of language (though I'm hardly a match for the words by Stein quoted in Wells' play). Both pieces also, I would say, have at their core a theory of objecthood; in Gertrude this takes at least two forms, with the character of Stein ruminating at length, and lovingly, on Alice B. Toklas as the "object of her affections," and with both women in turn discoursing on their paintings as objects. Finally, both plays are in some fundamental sense about grieving the end of a relationship, and the atemporality that necessarily goes along with that process. The future anteriority that underscores the conversation between Vic and Justin throughout much of my play (how they met always already shadowed by how they will part) is transformed in Gertrude into a kind of past perfect, with the play's conceit taking the form of a beyond-the-grave Stein watching over and simultaneously longing to be reunited with her beloved Alice.

As Stein, the formidable Gina Stockdale is in full command, effortlessly engaging her audience in intimate confidences not just about Alice's manifold loveliness, but also Stein's own de facto genius. SFU Contemporary Arts Events Manager Heather Blakemore, who also serves as costume designer on Gertrude, told me last week that the Alice Toklas in this show is very much a "fantasy" Alice, Alice seen through Stein's besotted rose-coloured glasses. And, indeed, Kathryn Ricketts plays her as much more gossamer and ethereal than one might at first suspect from having formed an impression of the woman via grainy historical photos or literary gossip. Taller and thinner than the real-life Toklas, and displaying in the simplest of movements (languishing on a divan, for example) her dancer's training, Ricketts conveys not just why it was so easy for Stein to fall in love with Alice, but Pablo Picasso as well. Ditto Stockdale confiding the other great love of her life--Ernest Hemingway (much to Alice's dismay).

This is a witty, moving, and intellectually stimulating play about the complex lines of affection and affiliation in a relationship, deftly directed by Penelope Stella, who has a sure sense of how the head and the heart interact in this work (not to mention language and the body). All of which makes for great dramatic synergies with Objecthood.

Both plays continue tonight through Saturday at SFU Woodward's; call 778-782-3514 for tickets.


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