Meet Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.
That is what writers Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry with their collaborator Karin Randoja want you to do. And they do a marvelous job in their play Gertrude and Alice now playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Parry also plays Stein and Chatterton takes on the role of Toklas.
Chatterton and Parry provide many reasons for wanting to meet the two women and those who have only a passing acquaintance with them will wish they knew them better. As Chatterton walks confidently towards the audience in the opening scene, she establishes dominance and control. Stein asks how many people have read all her books. She is met with silence. She reduces the stakes to three books and one person asserts that he has read three of her books.
Evalyn Parry and Anna Chatterton. Photo: Tanja Tiziana
Stein was a prolific writer with an idiosyncratic style at the forefront of modernist literature. There are references to her work in the play, of course, and some of her famous quotes (”a rose is a rose is a rose”) are included as examples of her literary style. But in a play the personalities and relationships of the characters necessarily dominate and little more than a few titles of Stein’s works can be given
We get an overview of her life with Toklas who was her life partner and secretary. The two were married and it was no doubt one of the first lesbian marriages. The play portrays them as a loving couple with Stein clearly the dominant personality.
Stein lived in Paris most of her life and she knew many of the writers and artists from Hemingway to Picasso to Matisse who have made the Latin Quarter forever famous. Stein was an avid art collector and the play projects her collection of paintings around the stage.
Chatterton and Parry give superb and convincing portraits of the two famous women and provide us with a fine tour of their lives and the Parisian milieu that they occupied and frequently dominated.
Karin Randoja who is credited as a collaborator in the writing of the play also directs it with a sure hand.
Presenting Stein and Toklas on stage in about seventy minutes is a daunting task. The writers made some very judicious choices from the masses of material available and the performers under the judicious hand of the director have done a highly successful job in informing, entertaining and fascinating us.
Gertrude and Alice is a production of Independent Auntie Productions. It was founded thirteen years ago by Chatterton, Parry and Randoja and is dedicated, in their words, “to creating original theatrical work by and about women.” Gertrude and Alice is their sixth production and, along with Oliver Twist, we say please ladies, we want some more.
Gertrude and Alice by Anna Chatterton and Evalyn Parry with the collaboration of Karin Randoja runs until March 27, 2016 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.buddiesinbadtimes.com