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Iconic Pair Come to Life in Cherry Grove's "Gertrude Stein"

by special correspondent Jack Twist

Photo: Gay Nathan (l) as Gertrude Stein; Lois Viscoli (seated) as Alice B. Toklas.

Thanks to the hard-working members of the Arts Project of Cherry Grove, theater audiences were treated to a rare gem in Cherry Grove's historic Community House on Saturday, June 16.  The award-winning play "Gertrude Stein and a Companion" by Win Wells was presented by The Arts Project as part of their season-long series.  This play, first produced off-Broadway in 1986 at the Lucille Lortel Theater, immediately carries its audience back to the time when Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso were regular visitors at the Paris home of Gertrude Stein and her life-companion, Alice B. Toklas. 


When the curtain goes up, we find Gertrude and Alice on the day that Gertrude has died in 1946.  There is much interaction in the beginning between Gertrude from the after-life and Alice who must deal with Gertrude's passing:  "Dead is dead, Alice!"  We are also treated to many recalled episodes from earlier times in their lives, where we hear our two principal characters discussing the various trips they had taken, so many topics, so many people, as well as the deep love and affection they had for each other.  At the conclusion of the play, Alice, having lived more than 20 years after Gertrude's passing, finally is able to join Gertrude, holding hands with her in the after-life.


Huge bravos are due to Gay Nathan, Cherry Grove resident and long-time teacher, producer and director in New Mexico, for her outstanding portrayal of Gertrude Stein..  Her partner for the evening was character actress Lois Viscoli, whose resumé includes performances in many plays from coast to coast, and who most recently won the coveted Drama Critics Award for her Los Angeles appearance in this very role.   From their first moments on stage Ms. Nathan became Gertrude Stein and Ms. Viscoli became Alice Toklas, the physical resemblances quite uncanny! Both actors skillfully created several supporting roles, such as Miss Stein's brother Leo, Picasso and Mabel Dodge, and successfully switched back to their principal roles with ease.


Not only was the audience privileged to return to the time when Picasso's paintings were obtained for minimal costs, we were treated to background music entirely by Eric Satie, one of the leading French composers of the day.  One further note, the title of the play is actually based in the writings of Hemingway, who we soon discover was not an object of affection for Miss Toklas when he described her in print merely as "a companion."


Attendance at the 7 pm show was acceptable, but there were all too many empty seats still available.  And that is a loss for the Cherry Grove community.  Those present had a rare glimpse at two of the iconic personalities of GLBT and literary history, and they were deeply grateful as was evidenced by the spontaneous burst of applause at the play's conclusion.