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The Marriage of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

Alice B. Toklas is getting married, I think, or maybe she isn’t, I think she is. It all depends on the imagination of Gertrude Stein, and who is playing who and what you believe. In this new farce by Edward Einhorn, we meet a litany of Modernists along the journey of a romance that is steeped in queer history.

Marriage of Alice - JST - Ali Wright.
Marriage of Alice – Jermyn Street Theatre – Ali Wright.

Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein sit at the front of the stage, in white ornate chairs, they tell us that they will be playing each other, playing each other, playing each other. And they do, along with Ernest Hemingway who plays just about every Modernist writer I can name, and Pablo Picasso who plays a strange catalogue of his contemporaries. As an ensemble, they play a caricaturized version of the relationship between Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein.

Across the back of the stage are about two dozen frames, each with scene titles in them. One reads “Farce”, and in many senses, this play is a conventional farce. There are ridiculous exaggerated characters all in ridiculous scenarios, and yet at the same time very little happens in this play, and amongst the characters rests some very sincere discussion of geniuses and what makes us who we are. I cannot help but wonder if these two approaches
were sometimes at loggerheads and battling for priority in the dramaturgy.

The cast are fun to watch and have good chemistry as an ensemble. Alice Toklas has a tenderness while Hemingway is charismatic and pathetic in his desperation to be pronounced a ‘genius’.

At the bottom of this play is some very interesting discussion of what the social construct of ‘genius’ is or means and what makes us who we are. All of this is explored through the lens of those around us, and this was thought-provoking.

This is one of those plays with a very specific audience, one that probably doesn’t need to look at the program to know who all the literary figures are. And that’s alright, theatre probably shouldn’t try to cater for everyone.

I am left without a confident sense of what this play is for, and what is meant by this play. The trend of narrativizing a famous historical figure’s life is certainly popular, and this is a different way of doing it but I am not sure what I take away from this play. That being said, this play makes no claims of radicalizing the stage, it knows what it is doing and executes it well.

3 Star Review

Review by Tom Carter

Everyone’s invited to the wedding of the century. Picasso’s arrived with one of his wives, and two of his mistresses. Hemingway is here too, with his wife and his favourite matador. And at the top table, the brides, literary superstars: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, presiding over a banquet of conversation about art, genius, sex, fame, and love.

The Marriage of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
Written and directed by Edward Einhorn
Set Design – Machiko Weston
Costume Design – Anna Lewis
Lighting Design – Ali Hunter
Sound Design – Mark Bruckner
By special arrangement with James L. Simon Productions and Untitled Theater Company No. 61

Kelly Burke – PICASSO
Natasha Byrne – GERTRUDE STEIN
Mark Huckett – HEMINGWAY
Alyssa Simon – ALICE B TOKLAS

17 MARCH – 16 APRIL 2022

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