In yesterday's review of "Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein" at Arena Stage, the closing date was incorrectly listed. The show closes on Saturday, Oct. 18.
GERTRUDE STEIN GERTRUDE STEIN GERTRUDE STEIN by Marty Martin; directed by Milton Moss; stting by Anne Gibson, lighting by Ruth Roberts. With Pat Carroll. At Arena Stage through Oct. 14.
Have you ever had the itch to visit Paris as it was in the first decades of this century, when you could drop down to the corner cafe and treat young Pablo Picasso to a croissant, invest the change in something by Henri Matisse at the neighborhood gallery, and go home to peruse Scott Fitzgerald's latest manuscript in your picturesque little garret?
Well, the time machine lifts off nightly at the Arena Stage, now through Oct 14, with the extremely capable Pat Carroll at the controls of "Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein."
Without trying to look just like Stein or affect an extreme butchiness, Carroll gives a warm, fierce, convincing performance that lets us into the life of a remarkable woman more often seen through the eyes of others. But the others are seen, here, through her eyes -- Pablo Picasso (whom Stein championed as a prototype for the 20th-century artist), Alice B. Toklas (her companion/secretary/roommate), Leo Stein (her brother, with whom she started her fabulous art collection) and her fellow American writers Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald and the rest.
This one-woman show, in which an older Stein traces her life in Paris from 1903 to 1935, includes some very funny, archly observed stories. There is the exhausting business of running a salon. "The most difficult thing about being a genius," Stein complains, "is you have to sit around all the time doing nothing." There is her description of Picasso as a mysterious figure "watching and listening, thinking Spanish thoughts." And of the young Toklas as a girl who "liked a view . . . but she liked her back to it." (After their first meeting, Stein recalls, "we discovered in each other a mutual fondness for cakes, so we took in all the bakeries." Thus was a life-long companionship born.)
Marty Martin' s play, commissioned by Carroll, succeeds in making Stein an absorbing and sympathetic figure without entirely obscuring the qualities that made her, evidently, something of an orge at times. The script is much less successful in its structure and selection of material. Carroll is constantly forced to jump form one subject to another with no more logical transition than "which rfeminds me" or "which brings me to." And there is no compelling dramatic reason behind Stein's speaking to us from the mid-1930s: The story doesn't build to any '30s climax, and indeed sweeps through the '20s (and her entourage of Francophile Americans of that period) with alarming briskness.
But for those interested in modern painting, "Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein" is a highly entertaining excursion to a unique time and place. The cast of supporting characters deserves much of the credit, and so does Stein herself, one of those rare artists remembered not for what she did but for what she said and the people to whom she said it.
But Pat Carroll is the bottom-line reason to see this show. There was a Mike Nichols/Elaine May routine way back when about a movie biography of Gertrude Stein to be called "Two Gals From Paris," with Spencer Tracy up for the part of Stein (and Sal Mineo for the part of "her lover, Ernest Hemingway"). That begins to suggest the formidable demands on any actress (or actor) who would dare impersonate the imperious expatriate salon-keeper and symbol of cross-cultural modernism. Carroll meets the demands and then some.