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Gertrude Stein's words are set to song in a loving and lovely revival by Kokandy Productions.
When Frank Galati’s adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s Civil War novel The March debuted at Steppenwolf in 2012, I was struck by how heavily Galati leaned on wholesale passages from Doctorow’s book, which I’d just read. This degree of faithfulness felt like a fault. As an adapter, Galati seemed too married to the text. Yet in Loving Repeating, Galati’s 2006 chamber musical written with composer Stephen Flaherty, his unshakable fidelity to the words of Gertrude Stein is the whole point—and a lovely one at that.
This was Galati’s third piece to engage with Stein’s work, following 1987’s She Always Said, Pablo and 1995’s Gertrude Stein: Each One as She May, both staged at the Goodman. I can’t speak to the quality of those productions, but here it’s in using Stein’s waggish settings of language—her love, yes, of repetition—as lyrics set to Flaherty’s equally playful score that Galati makes them soar.
An older Gertrude (the authoritative Caron Buinis) looks back—and, in Ashley Ann Woods’s multilevel scenic design, down from on high—upon the relationship between her younger self (Amanda Giles) and Alice B. Toklas (Emily Goldberg). Their courtship plays out via loosely connected vignette stagings of Stein pieces like “A Lyrical Opera / Made for Two / To Sing” (“My wife is my life / Is my life is my wife”) and “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene.” These are enacted by an ensemble of six, but staged so we see clear resonances between Stein’s characters and the lives of Gertrude and Alice.
Allison Hendrix’s sensitive staging for Kokandy Productions is doubtless scaled down from About Face Theatre’s original, produced at MCA Stage. Yet as a story about intimacy both emotional and intellectual, the production’s intimacy contributes to its impact. Music director Kory Danielson leads a skilled four-piece band through Flaherty’s lush, variegated score, while Andrea Louise Soule’s lively choreography makes full use of the space. Giles and Goldberg, while engaging, still come across as a bit too chaste early in the show’s run. But that relationship could easily deepen after a few more repetitions.
Kokandy Productions at Theater Wit. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Lyrics by Gertrude Stein. Adapted by Frank Galati. Directed by Allison Hendrix. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 15mins; no intermission.