City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Gertrude Stein: I like it to be a play/Every Afternoon Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 13 August 2009

Show details
Venue 13
CalArts Festival Theater
Running time: 
Gertrude Stein (writer), Marissa Chibas (director)
Jenny Greer, Mireya Lucio, Sallie Merkel, Brian Tichnell, Caitlyn Conlin, Christian Gibbs

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), the avant-garde American writer was inspired by European culture and from 1903 until her death lived in Paris where she was a celebrated hostess and patron for artists and writers at her Salon parties.

Her own innovative writing emphasises sounds and rhythms without conventional meaning, and grammar, in which she attempted to capture "moments of consciousness," independent of time and memory.

Her short snippet of a play, "I Like It to Be a Play" (1922) has no plot, setting or scenario, where the undefined characters - and audience - interact in the space between sense and language. It is the perfect Absurd drama, therefore, for students of Calarts, the Californian institute for the performing arts dedicated to "fostering brilliance and innovation within the broadest context possible".  (The blurb sounds as if Stein wrote it herself.)

Three elegant, pretty young ladies in fashionable tea dresses and cloche hats venture slowly, tentatively, on to the stage to sit on three bentwood chairs, where they face and stare at the audience, with almost a pained expression. It is unnerving.  Are we in the play which they are watching?

"I like it to be a play and so cleverly spoken. Americans are very clever.  So are others. Yes indeed."

Their disjointed - and occasionally witty - conversation and commentary explores the drama of life, of travel to Mallorca and philosophical nuances of Stein's milieu of the cultured, crazy, literary leisurely set of which she coined the phrase, the lost generation. As a poetic text, there is no dramatic convention, with words and phrases repeated like a nonsense rhyme. I enjoy its gentle satire with imaginative, sharp, intuitive performances by Jenny Greer, Mireya Lucio and Sallie Merkel.

While this trio sit sipping tea at the side, the action flows into a second Stein playlet, "Every Afternoon", featuring two men and a girl (in contemporary torn jeans, waistcoats, sneakers!?).

Our audience (of around six) then suffers ten minutes of unintelligible, inexplicable movement, shouting and physical antics.

A woman in the front row is dragged on stage where they sit and watch her, sitting watching them.

In complete contrast to the first play, these performances lack focus, meaning, humour or talent - even in the accepted context of Stein's theatre of the absolute.

Then the three girls join this amateur ensemble and after brief interplay and series of questioning, with a blast of Satie's Gymnopodie, they exclaim "the day passes quickly because we are happy."

I am happy. The play passes quickly after 35 minutes and I can leave.

Times: 8-15 August, 11.45am; 16, 18-22 August, 1.15pm.