‘Gertrude Stein and Companion’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by December 5, 2013

‘Gertrude Stein and a Companion’ is a beautifully written, award-winning tale by Win Wells. Win (a man) gathered original letters and memorabilia to give an accurate picture of our hero. Presented by Her Infinite Variety Ensemble (HIVE) at the intimate Guild Studio Theatre at 123 Claisebrook Road, on the corner of Somerville, Perth – just across the railway bridge from Claisebrook station. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday nights at 8.00 pm, until 14th December.

There is a delightful exhibition and collection of paintings and artworks, many for sale, by local artists on display.

The theatre is ‘in the round’ with two rows of chairs around the room’s periphery.

The scene is a dimly lit sitting room in a Parisian flat. It is just after the end of World War ll. In the centre of the room, there is a well-worn wooden table, loaded with pages from old books (set design Annette Orr and Helen Doig, lit by Emma Brown)

       Seated at the table is a proud and deeply satisfied woman, she is the American author and psychologist, Gertrude Stein (Vivienne Glance). Gertrude smiles as she looks fondly at the paintings on the walls, many of them given to her by close friends such as Matisse and Picasso. Into the room walks an infirm woman in widow’s weeds; it is Alice B. Toklas (Shirley Van Sanden), she has a harrowed appearance.

       Alice announces that today is the day that her dearest friend of the last 30 years, Gertrude, has just died. Alice tells us about their happy days together, with very funny interjections and corrections from the outspoken ghost of Gertrude (heard by the audience but not Alice) of her true feelings towards some of her artistic friends and how she almost succumbed to their amorous advances.

       The two companions are perfect for each other; Gertrude is exuberant, filled with drive, whereas Alice is happy to remain in the background, quietly looking after the business.

       After the play’s interval, we jump forward 20 years to 1964 and find frail Alice, now in another flat in Paris, describing Gertrude’s contemporary and experimental style of writing and recalling how her partner’s first books were published.

This is a delightful story, played with total empathy. Vivienne and Shirley are both exceptional scriptwriters and have been nominated and won many awards for their writing skills. They are also amazing, much admired, classical actors, and so the superlative quality of the acting and the emotions exhibited did not come as too much of a surprise.

Director, Helen Doig skilfully managed to keep the loving, light-hearted atmosphere of the script to the front. The flyer mentions how this play shows the need for marriage reform and the updating of gay rights; but although the deep love between the couple is lucid, the script is not pushing a message or screaming for reform, it is a simply, a fabulously constructed, intimate love story superbly performed.

The number of males in the audience was minimal, which is sad, as this is a quality ‘feel good’ play that deserves to be seen by a wide audience. An excellent night at the theatre.