Saturday, November 17, 2012

PRAGMATIC: Can Getrude Stein be Staged?

I went and saw a show adapted from Gertrude Stein's Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights recently. And a few years ago I saw another staged piece adapted from Gertrude Stein (I can't remember the source work on that one, but I know that the latter wasn't adapted for the stage). In both cases, I was led to ask -- can Gertrude Stein be successfully staged?

It may very well be able to, as a sample size of 2 is not enough for me to make a bold pronouncement. But both of the Gertrude Stein staged works made me question whether it's possible, or at least advisable.

Gertrude Stein's text in Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights is repetitive and circular, ad nauseum. The sentences explore sound and language, and the patterning of words, but the play is so abstract as to leave the performer at a loss. As poetry -- even performed poetry -- it makes absolute sense, but the attempt to overlay character on top of it rebels against the language's deconstruction.

Living human beings don't say the sort of things that Gertrude Stein imagines. It's the language of thought, the language of logic, but it's not tied to the physical realm of language. It reminds me of the passage in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where the computer Deep Thought deduces the existence of everything from rice pudding to income tax before even being plugged in to its data banks. The ideas spin around and around each other, trying to develop, all the while exhibiting a language structure on the level of an esoteric Dr. Seuss.

So, I open it up to the mob: have you seen Gertrude Stein performed as a theatrical production in a way that has conquered the language?