Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Theatre Rhinoceros is presenting Win Wells' Gertrude Stein and a Companion through January 8. This is a fascinating account of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas living in their Paris home for many years. It is a well-crafted drama about the couple as human beings. There is a preface to this: "They were regular in being gay ... they were gay the same length of time every day, they were gay, there were quite regularly gay."
Wells' 90-minute with intermission drama takes place in Stein's salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus where she entertained luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder, and Henri Matisse. The play is embedded as an after death recollection, with Alice B. Toklas speaking to herself and to her dead friend Miss Stein. The script propels the two women back in time where they laugh and recall adventures with Hemingway ("He looked modern but smelled like a museum") along with other celebrities who visited the salon. Both tell of how they met and how they were raised in Oakland, California. The playwright deftly depicts two unconventional characters whose lives and careers are marked by eminence among the literati generally regarded as brainy celebrities.
Kathryn Wood as Gertrude Stein dominates the stage with magnetism and warmth, spouting phrases like "a rose is a rose is a rose." Elaine Jennings looks like Alice B. Toklas. With her short bobbed hair wig and her blunt manner she holds her own on stage. Both actresses give excellent performances. Haley Bertelsen plays everyone else, including Stein's husband and a Nazi general who covered for the two Jewish lesbians during the German occupation in Paris. She gives a first rate performance as each of the characters.
Kathryn Wood along with artistic director John Fisher have designed the excellent set of a French salon with paintings by Matisse, Picasso, and other celebrities on what look like burlap sheets. Kathryn Wood also designed the unusual costumes of the characters.
The presentation is rather compact. It is an evening of solid entertainment and I learned a lot about Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.
Gertrude Stein and a Companion runs through January 8th, 2016, at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtain at www.therhino.org or by calling 1-800-838-3006. Coming up next is the original play by John Fisher, Flim-Flam, opening on February 25 and running through March 17, 2017.