If you are like me, Gertrude Stein is just a name that has been lingering in the ether of the left brain since college. She is important because of her artistic works, although exactly what is blurry. She is important because she is a woman, which appeals to the feminist in me. She is important because, whatever she did, she probably did it first. That is the whole sum of what I knew about Gertrude Stein before last night. Today, I feel like I know her quite well, thanks to International City Theatre’s majestic production of Loving Repeating: A Musical of Gertrude Stein.
Our guide through this dreamscape of image and song is Gertrude Stein herself ( Cheryl David). She introduces – through her own original written works – a Younger Gertrude ( Shannon Warne) who challenges everything. Impatient with the questions and “answers” she found in school, she moves to France and meets Alice B. Toklas ( Melissa Lyons Caldretti), the woman that would be the first and only love of her life. In her salon in Paris, Gertrude would gain recognition for her observations and questioning that would evolve into a respected reputation for being a “great thinker.” In the company of T.S. Elliot and Pablo Picasso, Stein would produce artistic works included essays, poet and “word portraits”.
In the words of Adapter Frank Galati, Loving Repeating “explores the tender links between the artistic projects of a poetic genius and the loving relationship at the center of her life.”
Loving Repeating is not a linear work. Designed to mimic the most popular idiosyncrasies of her literary style, Loving Repeating is an ocean of repetition. This show is a stream-of-consciousness experience to simply be immersed in. The loose narrative branches out fluidly, through the life, works and relationships of Gertrude Stein. If you are familiar with Stein’s work, you will undoubtedly get such more out of it than the casual observe. If not, just go with it. There is more than enough of a clear progress to allow the more "practical thinker" to follow along.
The ensemble for Loving Repeating is superb. With a piece so entrenched in the abstract, it is critical for every performer to have a thorough understanding the artistic concept for the production. Keeping that governing concept in mind is the only way to make the variations in style and tone required in the piece, truthfully. Loving Repeating visits “…Victorian parlor tunes, vaudevillian songs and even opera.” Yet the ensemble of this ICT production is in absolute unison and delivers a brilliant performance. Every actor executed their many roles with expert precision, lock-step in their perfection. WELL DONE.
“Strangeness brings vitality to the noun.” – Gertrude Stein.
Loving Repeating is a delightful emanation of thought and emotion and motion. The text of the show is taken directly from Stein’s writings. Stephen Flaherty’s music compliments the emotionality and intellect of Stein’s writings fabulously. Similarly, Heather Castillo’s choreography is sensational. The motion she imbues to Stein’s poetry is more than another layer to the show; it is another character on stage. Set Designer Kurt Boetcher has done his usual spectacular job. The juxtaposition of starkness, skeletal trees erect in the center platform of the stage against the rich, vibrant “Picasso” painted on the floor of the stage is unexpectedly congruous, particularly when enjoined with lighting design.
Director caryn desai [sic] has done a tremendous with this production. It is truly a surprising and delightful evening of theatre. What a way to kick of ICT’s “Season of Romantic Adventures”.
Loving Repeating: a Musical of Gertrude Stein runs now through February 13, 2011 at:
ICT at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center
300 East Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90802
Box Office: 562-436-4610