The Marriage of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein is a fantastic stage play. Despite the simplicity of the stage, the cast brings energy and soul to this performance. The story begins by telling the audience that everyone is invited to the wedding of the century. Picasso arrives with one of his wives, and two of his mistresses. Hemingway is here too, with his wife and his favourite matador. These protagonists have a conversation about art, sex, fame and love. The Director is trying to reach an understanding of what makes a genius through these conversations.
Kelly Burke, the Chair of UK Equity’s Women’s Committee, plays Picasso; the amazing actress Natasha Byrne plays Gertrude Stein; Mark Huckett plays Hemingway; Alyssa Simon who has won NYIT (New York Innovative Theatre Awards) plays Alice B. Toklas. These four brave actors play over thirty characters in this breathtaking marriage farce.
Sometimes the actors fight vigorously, sometimes they are engaged in heated discussions on the topic of “Genius”. What is a genius? How can you be a genius? These questions confuse the audience throughout the play and no one defines them. Without dramatically flowing into a story, these scenes take the audience into a philosophical state of mind. If there is one point that can be called “Genius”, it is the wedding of the lesbian couple, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. They are crazy geniuses true to love.
Before the wedding, one of the four actors is responsible for explaining the plot, and the remaining three begin to set the stage naturally. This transition is perfect. Likewise, the real staff serving in the theatre interact with the actors. The staff are unexpectedly invited to the stage by the actors to play the role of the guest watching the wedding. It seems like the staff becomes the “lucky winner”, obtaining the right to go on the stage and participate in this plot. This element of the plot is interesting and made the audience laugh due to the funny and dramatic performance.
At the start of the wedding, the two women made a promise to each other for a lifetime and they kissed on stage. When the lovers promised to commit to each other, one is excited and the other is calm, and this contrast is touching. We feel two different emotions from the lesbian couple.
At the end of the story, the lesbian lovers parted for a while because they are not officially wedded. When they meet each other again their love is reflected through their affectionate embrace.
The Director and writer is Edward Einhorn, who has been NY Theater.com’s Person of the Year and has received Critics’ Choice awards from Village Voice, Time Out, and The New York Times.
As Edward Einhorn said, “Because joy is subversive, especially for those who live in a society that can destroy you: for being gay, for being Jewish, for being any oppressed people or minority, or simply for being human.” The Director seems to tell a story about resistance using the form of comedy.
The play runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until 16 April 2022 and tickets are available here: www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk
Natasha Byrne and Kelly Burke in The Marriage of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein at Jermyn Street Theatre – Photo by Ali Wright.
Reviewed by Jiajing Yang. Yang is a MA Documentary-Fiction student at UCL and a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. Yang has written several different articles on the WeChat platform and Zhihu website, mostly about film and literature, and she has published a romantic novel based on ancient China.