The first two pieces, "The King or Something" and "Not Slightly" in The Collapsable Giraffe's evening of Gertrude Stein plays were respectable. Nothing was that exciting but nothing was so terrible either. Then inspiration hit, making "Turkey and Bones and Eating and We Liked It," the last play on the bill in Stein Stein, exhilarating, and altogether fun.
Stein is a difficult playwright. Her narrative (when there is any) is fragmented and elliptical. Stage directions, authorial notes, and dialogue are indistinguishable. Stein's incisive mind, musicality, and wit should draw theater artists to her work, but her theoretical writings on drama have had a wider influence.
During the first two plays that made up the evening the audience saw a group of highly skilled artists just missing the mark. Director Amy Huggans's staging was intelligent but too academic to match the unbridled imagination of the text. The actors (Guy Larkin, Kelley Reynolds, Suzanne Turner, Tory Vazquez, and Bill Velin) were obviously talented, but that is not enough for a Stein text. Stein actors must be nimble enough to create a complete context for each of the kaleidoscopic fragments of text, then drop it as they move on to the next fragment. It's acting without a through-line (the actor's equivalent of tight-rope walking without a net). Only Vazquez was able to do this, delivering the full impact of Stein's words with impressive skill.
Then as "Turkey and Bones" started, something clicked. The staging that had been workmanlike became startlingly beautiful and silly, as in one mystical and delightfully dopey scene when the cast rolled dozens of apples across the stage floor. Scenes of interrogation and of social chit-chat gone bad became meaningful. Tableaux became expressive. Genuine humor was mined from the text rather than imposed on it. At last both Stein and Collapsable Giraffe proved themselves.
The eclectic musical score by Rima Fand was very effective, due in large part to her strong performance of it on piano and percussion. Monica Schroeder's costumes had a timeless thrift-store chic. Design, credited to Bob Wonder and Bob Junior, was a mixed bag. The elegant set looked like fun to work with, but the lighting lacked imagination. It clung to conventions like dimming the lights at the start even though this made no sense in a set that featured two walls full of windows that let streetlight spill in.
Still, the skill of this company was impressive, even during the first two plays when its choices were questionable. However, it is their spectacular success with "Turkey and Bones" that marks The Collapsable Giraffe as one to watch out for.
Copyright 1996 Michael Yawney
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