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Reread Another

Gertrude Stein’s rarely performed play is enjoyable but baffling both on the page and on the stage.

Clare Barron, Purva Bedi and Ugo Chukwu in a scene from Gertrude Stein’s “Reread Another” (Photo credit: Marina McClure)

Clare Barron, Purva Bedi and Ugo Chukwu in a scene from Gertrude Stein’s “Reread Another” (Photo credit: Marina McClure)

Daniel J. Lee, Critic

 Gertrude Stein remains one of English language literature’s more polarizing figures. Hailing from the United States but ultimately moving to France to write in the company of the likes of Hemingway, Stein is remembered at the time as a pioneer of the revolutionary twentieth century school of modernism. While some praise her experimentation with language as something akin to Picasso’s cubist experimentation with portraiture, others criticize her for her inaccessibility. It is thus no surprise that Reread Another, Target Margin Theater Company’s showcase of Stein’s writing currently playing at Williamsburg’s The Brick, elicits a similarly large swath of reactions from its audience. This confounding, little show attempts to offer a new perspective on Stein’s rarely performed play by providing its audience the rare opportunity to hear her words out loud. 

Reread Another is a collection of Stein’s sometimes illuminating, sometimes moving, and sometimes completely ridiculous linguistic portraits arranged into a series of discrete scenes. Spoken by three actors taking on various roles from sailors to shrubs, the text is an angular, twisting mix of paradoxes, circular logic, and contradictions that achieve satisfying moments of coherence when we least expect them to. Although the performance lacks any sort of cohesive story, it amounts to a shockingly moving evening, providing its viewer the unique sense that something indescribably interesting, perhaps even important, has occurred.

While this performance of Reread Another may not entirely silence some viewers’ protestations that putting Stein’s generally plotless text up onstage does little to enhance its artistic value, David Herskovits’ direction does well to appropriately match its source material’s style. His actors move about The Brick’s deep stage, engaging in seemingly random activities from gift opening to napping to squabbling. They make silly faces, they mime, and sometimes they stare longingly into space for considerable lengths of time. If Stein’s writing evokes a sort of literary cubism, Herskovits’ direction transposes that style into its stage counterpart, at once jagged and finessed.

Clare Barron and Purva Bedi in a scene from Gertrude Stein’s “Reread Another” (Photo credit: Marina McClure)

Clare Barron and Purva Bedi in a scene from Gertrude Stein’s “Reread Another” (Photo credit: Marina McClure)

Likewise integral to the show is the “Sound Demon” Jesse Freedman, who not only controls the production’s unrelenting barrage of audio cues, but also joins the rest of the cast for occasional onstage antics. Punctuated by Jennifer Resier’s purposefully poorly synced lighting design and Ásta Benne Hostetter’s set cluttered with assorted tchotchkes, the soundscape of the production is a text in its own right, at times abrupt and poetic.

Thankfully, the committed cast is equally on board with Stein’s text and Herskovits’ vision, offering their talents as simultaneous clowns and dramatic performers. While Clare Baron flashes a sardonic smile and serenades us with a piano solo, Purva Bedi stands with great poise and restraint while shedding a single tear. Meanwhile, Ugo Chukwu provides some much needed physical comedy to the evening of often-incomprehensible gibberish.

Regardless of your opinion of the merits, if any, of Stein’s polarizing modernism, Target Margin’s Reread Another succeeds at achieving its goal. This production’s interpretation of her work appears as an effort to expose the limitations of words, to analyze the problems of communication, and to fight against the urge to make complete sense. If you like that sort of thing, you will love Reread Another; if you don’t, this iteration will likely do little to change your mind. If you have no opinion on such works, you owe it to yourself to check it out and develop an informed one. But don’t worry if you don’t entirely get it: that’s just as it should be.

Reread Another (through October 17, 2015)

Target Margin Theater Company

The Brick, 579 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn

For tickets, call (718) 285-3863 or visit http://www.bricktheater.com

Running time: 55 minutes with no intermission

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