Tagged under "off-broadway" (3)
|27 Rue de Fleurus: A New Musical|
Last weekend, I checked out a Saturday performance of a new off-Broadway musical, 27 Rue de Fleurus, which tells the story of the relationship between trailblazing writer and philosopher Gertrude Stein and her lifelong partner, Alice B. Toklas, which spanned most of the first half of the 20th century. Though much has been written about Stein's life, very little time has been devoted to Toklas' side of the story until now.
Featuring an all-female cast, mostly made up of Broadway veterans, 27 Rue de Fleurus is narrated by Toklas, brilliantly played by Cheryl Stern. The structure of the production consists of Toklas leading us through time, speaking from the vantage point of the afterlife. Stein (Barbara Rosenblat) is also present, but while she would have had the center stage during their life together, Toklas keeps her at bay and tells their story as she remembers it. For all of her bluster, Stein's utter devotion to Toklas' quiet strength becomes more and more obvious as the play unfolds, because as she tries to downplay moments of weakness and imperfection, Toklas' character is always allowed to give the final word. The musical score is at once raunchy and tender, with songs like "Role Play", which describes their ways of keeping a married sex life interesting, and "Be My Wife", Stein's proposal to Toklas. Perhaps the most touching aspect of this production is the simplicity with which their relationship is dealt. It does not dwell specifically on the issue of Stein's sexual orientation, though she addresses it briefly and makes no apologies to the accusations of her disapproving brother, Leo Stein. Historical contemporaries such as Pablo Picasso, Sylvia Beach, and even Jean Harlow appear to spice up the plot, mostly during the "salon" scenes taking place in Stein and Toklas' living room at 27 Rue de Fleurus in France. Each one helps to complete the full portrait of the incredibly vibrant and fascinating life these two women led together in the heart of early 20th century intellectual discourse.
What we have here is a love story, fraught with jealousy and passion like others, but most of all, it celebrates the incredible bond between two women who decided to share their lives, even during a time when it was relatively unheard of. Gertrude Stein may have been a strong and formidable figure, but the lesson the audience comes away with is that she would not have been able to reach her full potential without the incredible support offered by her wife, Alice. It's an old story, to be sure. But when was the last time it was told about two women in such a traditional setting? That alone makes 27 Rue de Fleurus worth an evening of your time.
Directed by Frances Hill, the production will be running until April 6th at Urban Stages (259 W. 30th St.), and you can buy tickets here.
Tagged on March 18, 2008
|Piaf: Love Conquers All - The Soho Playhouse|
Yesterday evening, I had the privilege to attend an 8pm performance of Piaf: Love Conquers All at the Soho Playhouse. A one woman-play starring Canadian actress Naomi Emmerson and written by Roger Pearce, Piaf is a truly exquisite and heart-wrenching piece of theater. The play is structured as a personal narrative, which intermittently gives way to vignettes of the great French chanteuese's tragic life, all of which are brilliantly portrayed by Emmerson. A less accomplished actress could have succumbed to the quick gear shifts in time and context within the script, but the transitions were absolutely seamless as we were at once able to experience both a retrospective account of Piaf's life and the events and emotions that made her time on earth so striking. The set design was sparse yet elegant, containing white furniture in a sketched style, and accented only by the color red; quite appropriate for an account of Piaf's life, often associated with her most famous work, "La Vie en Rose." Featuring 13 songs originally sung by the French songstress ("Non, je ne regrette rien", "Mon Dieu", and others), Piaf provided the audience with the depth of knowledge required to understand the heartache and emotion behind her legendary work, all the while managing to throw in a laugh here and there. Also, it is extremely important not to ignore the beautiful piano stylings of accompanist Carmela Sinco, whose skill and grace complemented the performance immeasurably. I knew very little about Piaf's life as I stepped into the theater, and I was accompanied by a friend who knew still less than I. I would like to note that both of us have been listening to "The Legendary Edith Piaf" since we've woken up this morning.
Piaf: Love Conquers All is running as a special limited engagement at the Soho Playhouse, closing on January 20th. Tickets are still available online at www.sohoplayhouse.com, and I assure you, it will be money well-spent.
Tagged on February 15, 2008