Lyrics by Gertrude Stein,
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Allison Hendrix
Produced by Kokandy Productions
At Theater Wit, Chicago
“Rose is a rose is a rose…”
“Very fine is my valentine, very fine and very mine.
Very mine is my valentine very mine and very fine.
Very fine is my valentine and mine, very fine mine and mine is my valentine.”
Love and Fun, It’s All There
Frank Galati’s Loving Repeating, a musical tribute to modernist poet Gertrude Stein, is a challenging work for any company. The non-Equity and relatively young Kokandy Productions took a big risk by selecting it to follow their Jeff nominated production of the more typical musical The Full Monty, but their ambitions have paid off with a show that is as visually and aurally intoxicating as any (actually, more than most). Featuring a quartet of musicians under the direction of Kory Danielson, playing chamber pieces by Stephen Flaherty (of Ragtime fame) on instruments that include a guitar, cello, and clarinet, Loving Repeating is a joyous celebration of love, play, and beauty, sung by a wonderfully talented cast.
The story of Stein’s life is told through reminiscences as she, played in her advanced years by Caron Buinis, explains how she developed her stream-of-consciousness writing style. At Radcliffe, she studied psychology, and learned to observe the subtle variations in how people repeat the same words and behaviors. She became interested in using these variations in her writing, which she hoped could capture the entirety of the human experience, and was inspired when she fell in love. We see Stein as a young woman, played by Amanda Giles, begin her lifelong relationship with Alice B. Toklas (Emily Goldberg), and their time together is told through excerpts from Stein’s books set to music. (Galati sidestepped Stein’s politics, which are a much darker drama, apparently preferring to focus on the love story.)
Those excerpts are sung by Giles, Goldberg, and an ensemble of six young actors and actresses. With the exception of a tango, most of Flaherty’s music is light, joyous, and it makes use of Stein’s repetitious style. Her words work well with music, the older version of Stein points out her poems are best out loud, and the ensemble sings them in harmonious exuberance. Several of the scenes from Stein’s books, which her younger self and Toklas glide through, are staged humorously with the aid of Kate Setzer-Kamphausen’s sometimes literal-minded costumes. Andrea Louise Soule’s choreography is as complex and graceful as it is playful, and throughout the show’s brief seventy-five minute run, the performers look like they are having a delightful time capering with each other.
Allison Hendrix’s direction is energetic, but somehow retains a dreamy feel. Caron Buinis’s narration is witty, but serves a serious point about what Stein considered to be her artistic purpose. “A rose is a rose is a rose,” her most famous line, is an example she uses to show how words must be emphasized to fully communicate the physicality behind them, and Buinis’s friendly, but feisty, delivery demonstrates her point. Giles and Goldberg are an adorable couple, and have voices as lovely as the rest of ensemble. That they’re able to play the same people over a period of decades is a testament to their acting abilities—they don’t go for fake age, exactly, but watching them, it seem like Stein and Toklas learn to know each other very well. Another major source of the show’s beauty is scenic designer Ashley Ann Woods’s decorating the back wall of the set with the impressionist paintings Stein collected. The colorful Cezannes and Matisses, along with Cat Wilson’s lighting, maintain a vivacious spirit over the evening’s proceedings.
Reviewed July 20, 2015
This show has been Jeff recommended.
For more information, see Loving Repeating’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at Theatre Wit, 1229 W Belmon Ave, Chicago. Tickets are $38; to order, call 773-975-8150 or visit kokandyproductions.com. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm through August 30. Running time is seventy-five minutes.