Now Repeat in Steinese
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
June 8, 2010
If you've ever wondered what, exactly, a theatre director does, or how her contributions to the process of making theatre can be seen and measured—or for that matter, how a theatre director's work differs from a film director's—Now Repeat in Steinese is a compact, lively answer to that question. An evening solely composed of productions, in three different media (three live performances, one short film, and an audio collage) of the short Gertrude Stein play White Wines, each accompanied by a glass of—what else?—white wine, Now Repeat in Steinese takes a more-than-usually opaque piece of writing (even for Stein—after hearing it through in slightly different edits five times, I felt like I was maybe beginning to get a faint understanding of it!) and utterly transforms it in each iteration. Not only is each visualized and staged differently, but in each the writing is interpreted so distinctly that the text itself seems to be about something different, and operating in a different way.
The "curtain-raiser" is an audio collage created by Mark Grenier, featuring recurring fragments in a looping journey through the text, punctuated by sound effects. It's fairly abstract, but the sound background implies a domestic gathering, maybe a cocktail party where people are a tiny bit too drunk—the mood seems to shift from casual chatter to more overwrought emotions at a moment's notice.
The first of the stagings (directed by Kurt Braunohler and Laura Sheedy, who also plays the female role) is the most straightforward, meeting the text head-on and parsing it as the ebb and flow of a relationship between a man and a woman, punctuated by an array of vaguely historical objects (a decorative box, an old typewriter). The arc here is of emotion more than story; the text carries feelings more than concrete meaning. And Sheedy seems to connect to those feelings more successfully than her costar, Lucas Hazlett.
The next piece, a short film directed by Ryan Bronz, shows how Stein's elliptical transitions from idea to idea can be mapped onto jump cuts and other editing techniques, using visual juxtapositions to build connections and meanings into the web of Stein's words. Disappointingly, though, the film makes the least considered attempt to grapple with the text, using only a few segments and filling in with music.
Director Andrew Frank's interpretation focuses most strongly on character, using the counterintuitive prism of Sex and the City through which to view Stein, and turning the play's three minimalist "acts" into three evocative vignettes about female friendship; the surface text focuses on consumer objects—clothes, spoons, cocktails—but the subtext is about emotional connection and support. Rita Marchelya and Amy Dickenson, playing the friends, seem to settle into the language and make it work suppley and convincingly for them.
The final version, directed by Heidi Carlsen, is the most visually striking, using the play almost as a score or soundscape for a scene set in a kitchen, where women play out an enigmatic power dynamic while rolling out dough and eating bread. Moments in the text do pop up as dialogue, but the language is more counterpoint and underscoring to the action.
Hosts Christine Fall and Drew Pisarra, along with the free-flowing wine, keep the evening playful and fast-paced. I'm not sure I could tell you what White Wines is really meant to be about—still—but as a collation of pure theatre, Now Repeat in Steinese is engaging and entertaining.