An artistic conversation

Breathing Life

Master Piece: A scene from the play.

It’s a lazy Saturday evening, there are chores around the house left undone. But all you do is settle down for some old fashion gossip. And that’s exactly how the play Gertrude was presented to the audience at Ranga Shankara.

The play was originally conceived to celebrate the launch of the Seagull publication of the book, Correspondence: Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso in Mumbai.

Gertrude Stein was an American writer, who spent most of her life in France, and became a catalyst in the development of modern art and literature.

Her life was marked by two primary relationships, the first with her brother Leo Stein and the second with Alice B Toklas, about whom she refers to extensively in her monologues.

So the lazy evening gossip is between the audience and Gertrude, where of course, the audience are silent listeners while Gertrude Stein, played by Phyllis Bose lodges herself into extensive monologue full of sarcastic humour.

She starts off with her disdain for mundane everyday jobs, saying, “If it can be done,
why do it?” and established how Alice, her companion took care of all that.

The monologue then goes into description of her famous Saturday Salons that were well known for the colourful art circuit of Paris during the 1920s and 30s.

The performance also packs Gertrude’s influential relationships with the writers, poets and ground-breaking artists of the period, Matisse, Cezanne, Juan Gris, Braque, etc and her special relationship with Pablo Picasso, which resulted in the famous portrait now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The story then unfolds into how her writing career took off, with Picasso being her biggest influence. She also discusses how she came to write about her most famous book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

“I told Alice to write her Autobiography, and that she could call 25 years of living with a genius,” she narrates.

So sure enough in 1932, she wrote The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, and despite the title, it was really her own autobiography.

The play has its moments, moments of sheer linguistic brilliance, with monologues that linger long after they have been spoken, with deep meaning.

And then there are meaningless monologues that linger nonetheless, like the famous one, “A rose is a rose, is a rose is a rose.”

The play is heavy in its content, and will appeal to those who like serious theatre, with emphasis on the script.

Phyllis Bose does justice by getting into the skin of Gertrude.

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