Playwright: Music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics and text adapted by Frank Galati from the writings of Gertrude Stein. At: Kokandy Productions at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-975-8150; www.kokandyproductions.com; $38. Runs through: Aug. 30
With the benefit of hindsight enjoyed by enlightened citizens in 2015, we can look upon the lifetime partnership of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas as a warning to couples who neglect appropriate legal protections for surviving spouses, or we can mock their domestic paradigmone affecting a "husbandly" appearance while the other performed "wifely" dutiesas stereotypical caricature. What is undeniably evident in the lives of these two women, however, is romance as steadfast and passionate as any exalted in earthly lore.
This romance is at the center of Frank Galati and Stephen Flaherty's homage to the 20th century's most famous sapphics, the major part of their chamber opera devoted to the introspective young student whose sexual awakening blossomed following her introduction to the woman with whom she would fall giddily, proudly and thoroughly in love. Blessed with enough money to seek more tolerant environs than those in the United States, they soon found comfortable quarters amid the Paris salons where the world's creative minds congregated during that golden age between the wars. Their guest lists read like today's museum catalogues, being replete with then-unknown artists happy to sell their early wares to the rich American lady who wrote poetry in form aesthetically revolutionary like their own.
Stein's approach to wordsmitherybased in rejuvenation of verbal imagery through unconventional syntax ( rhythmic phrasing, faux-naif rhymes, reflexive refrains, etc. )renders her verse perfectly suited for adaptation into song. With linear coherence proclaimed irrelevant by the author herself, Galati and Flaherty revel in the gleefully sensual babble of first-blush love, whether beckoning "Come sit by me" with shy innocence, delving the oral tactility of the word "caramel" in a blues progression or describing a trio of cafe boys in an chorus riddled with "gay"perhaps the first time in literary history the adjective appears in reference to homoerotic proclivities.
"Loving is repeating is living" declares Stein, but nothing spoken can be repeated exactly, only reaffirmed, and so 70 minutes of sweet nothings could grow tiresome without the framing device of the older Stein recalling her adventures with characteristic candor. These are illustrated by an ensemble of fresh-faced youths garbed in quaint Edwardian fashions and crystalline singing voices, dancing daintily on a stage crowded with art of the periodeven the floor is decorated in Impressionist motifaccompanied by a live four-person orchestra drawing forth from their nine instruments melodies as startling in their provocative beauty as Stein could have wished.