"In Circles" sweetens Gertrude Stein's bony script with Al Carmines' sugar-pop music. The resulting confection is predictably hard to swallow, even though the Round House Theater strives mightily to make it palatable.
The text is Stein's 1920 work, "A Circular Play," which purports to treat the inner circle of expatriate artists and writers who gathered in her Paris salon. The "dialogue" -- really lean snippets of far-flung chats -- is persistently precious and self-involved:
It is not necessary to run around in a circle to get ready to write a circular play.
I used to be able to do this very nicely.
Once more I think about conversations.
Conversations conversations, Hindustani and remorse.
I necessarily gather a circle.
I gather in a circle.
And now to play.
Play for a circle.
It takes a highly rarefied sensibility -- and perhaps even a plateful of Alice B. Toklas' famous brownies -- to get much lasting fun from such beating about the bush. Carmines' tunes, from gospel to rock to Russian folk, occasionally make for a nice contrast.
For instance, the lyric, "Papa dozes mamma blows her noses," is set to a fiery Cossack dance in the show's opening number. But after this rousing start, the juxtapositions of words and music quickly lose their shock appeal.
The show's 13 actors and musicians, directed by Jeffrey B. Davis, bring energy and conviction to spare to these roundabout doings. Douglas A. Cumming has come up with a truly handsome set: everything covered, a la Stein, with repetitive labels ("STEPSTEPSTEPSTEP" or "COLUMNCOLUMNCOLUMNCOLUMN"), with the backdrops done up like Picassos and Kandinskys. The dancing is deft and the singing is generally adequate, with Sarah Marshall, an appealing actress, trying bravely to hold a tune.
Alas, none of this is enough to make "In Circles" more than a curiosity of the lost generation. IN CIRCLES--At the Round House Theater through May 29