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17.3.05

The Pigeons on the Grass, Alas

Gertrude Stein is back. If she was ever gone, that is. I've posted about her work several times (going all the way back to July 24, 2003), and there has been a lot of interest in her lately. Margo Jefferson has an article (The Mother of Us All (All of Us Modernists), March 15) in the New York Times about a revival of one of Stein's operas. In 1999, a theater troupe called The Wooster Group adapted Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (1938), for which Stein wrote the libretto, in a production called House/Lights, which it is reviving at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn (through April 10).

The Wooster Group cuts between scenes from Stein and scenes from "Olga's House of Shame," a 1964 B-movie about a dominatrix jewel thief (Olga), the girls she keeps in thrall and the glamorous traitor (Elaine) whom she torments, then rewards. What do these texts share? Comic visions of hell, and worlds in which women triumph. Faust is a failure, Mephisto scares no one, and Olga's men are strictly appendages. "Olga's House of Shame" is a trashy thriller. Stein loved crime stories, too. Every country had its own kind of crime, she said, and it depended a lot on what kinds of houses people lived in.
I should also mention a new opera about Gertrude Stein, called Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On (mentioned in the Times article, too), by composer William Banfield and librettist Karren Lalonde Alenier, whom I met at the premiere of Scott Wheeler's Democracy in January. It will be performed on June 15 to 18 as part of A Gertrude Stein Musical Trilogy at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia in Manhattan, and tickets are on sale through Symphony Space or by telephone at (212) 864-5400. The new work will be presented along with Ned Rorem's Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters and Virgil Thomson's Capital Capitals.

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