Watermark on the Fringe: Gertrude Stein Has Arrived!

By : Billy Manes
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It wasn’t at all what we expected – then again, little surrounding the love story of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas was scripted, either – but Betty Jean Steinhouer, who has made a career out of occupying the personalities of strong authors – certainly makes for a credible representative of her muse. The play – which was not given its full breadth at our press screening, but rather a candid, in-character Q&A treatment – centers, naturally, on the droll and heavy breaths of a couple somewhat calloused by the rise of Adolf Hitler and the expanse of World War II. Much of what me know about Stein is guarded and not terribly sentimental, but always leaning on the side of intellect over emotion.

Gertrude Stein Has Arrived seeks to humanize a character often lost in the shuffle of the Holocaust, the attacks from Germany on France, America’s initial inaction in the war and the French Resistance, her relationship with Alice B. Toklas. Stein, however, was a pivotal force – even an inexplicable force of nature – throughout the Jewish lesbian couple’s turmoil in the early 1940s. Stein  would go on to do post-war radio appearances in the same Paris she had been force out of by German might.

History hangs heavily in this one-woman show, but infectious storytelling saves it from the dour side of the wall.

“America is my country, but Paris is my hometown,” Steinhouer says.

Beneath the social-studies, liberal-arts sheen, however, is a true love story, one that had to hold its thick skin tightly.

“I was a little girl who wanted to grow up to be a husband … I lived in the library,” she says. “I left America [in 1934] to leave my husband.”

Between the lines, there are weighted dropped names like those of Picasso, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Thompson lining the emotional backdrop of a Europe in peril. The threats of concentration camps were met with more closeting for Stein, especially when the bombs dropped.

“All of France was in prison,” Steinhouer says from the stage.

Though this wasn’t a complete performance, we were assured that many of the topics included in the dense monologue were broached at the press preview. And even in a room full of people that may not even be able to place Stein in their internal perceptions of history, Steinhouer brings to life to an era that many would sooner forget, and she does it in a way that is equally informative and engaging.

Running through May 28 at the White Venue. For more information, go to orlandofringe.org

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