GERTRUDE AND ALICE by Anna Chatterton, Evalyn Parry and Karin Randoja (Independent Aunties/Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander). Runs to March 27, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. Pwyc-$37. 416-975-8555, buddiesinbadtimes.com. Rating: NNNN
Talent is talent is talent is talent, to echo Gertrude Steins well-known statement about a rose.
Youll find plenty of it, along with humour, satire and affection, in the Independent Aunties take on the lives and work of perhaps the best-known lesbian couple of the early 20th century, writer/thinker Gertrude Stein and her devoted partner, Alice B. Toklas.
Directed by co-creator Karin Randoja as a sort of informal lecture, the long-dead Gertrude (Evalyn Parry) and Alice (Anna Chatterton) address and question the audience, discovering that most of us know little about them and fewer have read Steins writings. Over the course of the evening, were told about the nature of genius, unusual members of their family, marks of punctuation and the first use of gay (meaning homosexual) in print.
Against designer Trevor Schwellnuss projections that evoke the womens fabulous art collection, they recount in a confidential, engaging manner their association with Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway and other famous artists. The paintings provide evidence, as Gertrude says, that her writing is a literary form of cubism, parallel to Picassos visual style.
Costumed by Ming Wong to resemble the substantial Stein, Parry sometimes strikes the pose from Picassos portrait of the writer the result is at times intended to impress and at others as a send-up of the painting. Wong dresses Toklas in a more prim outfit, suited to her role in the background.
Magisterial from the start, Parry grounds the self-impressed Gertrude visually and verbally, while Chatterton only makes her presence felt after her partner has established herself. The staging and Michelle Ramsays lighting cleverly echo Gertrudes statement that Alice is my secretary and the one who makes life comfortable for me.
The text, which blends Stein and Toklass words with those devised by the actors and director, is playful and enticing, using the rhymes, repetitions (or insistences, the word Gertrude prefers) and circular statements that Stein championed.
Their fame and Gertrudes genius established, the two also dont mind showing us their jealousies (Alices) and insecurities (Gertrudes, uncertain if her genius extends beyond her writing) while talking about their time together.
The show is full of wonderful moments: the two seduce each other with talk of a richly orgasmic meal, the problems of their first date, an American tour and quotes from various publishers rejection letters. The reading of a lengthy dismissal missive that tries to copy Steins style is amusingly accompanied by the eating of an apple.
If you dont know much about the two, who spent over 39 years together, youll find on your theatre seat a fine program, complete with illustrations, that gives a chronology of the women the characters constantly refer viewers to it as a way of filling in their stories. Dont expect much talk about the importance of hash brownies, though.
Parry, Chatterton and Randoja, who make up Independent Aunties, havent collaborated in years, and its a pleasure to see them back together. Their still-potent chemistry is a delight few artists are able to blend material thats slyly comic and warmly heartfelt in such a delicate yet sure fashion.