Thursday, April 18, 2013

Say It With Flowers

Say It With Flowers runs at the Hampstead Theatre until May 4, 2013. By Gertrude Stein, directed by Katie Mitchell.

Say It With Flowers. Maybe instead of reviewing this show in my usual manner, I should just draw a picture of a flower and make that my response. It would probably make about as much sense as the actual show.

There’s some real novelty at work in this performance – the fact that it’s played in promenade, for one, so that the audience follows the actors from room to room – but I’m not sure that there’s more than that novelty. Say It With Flowers takes some frankly obtuse texts from Gertrude Stein and attempts to impose meaning on them via performance, and I just don’t think it works. Oh, in some places it does: I don’t think it’s any accident that the third section of the show, which has a compressed version of the conventional theatrical five act structure as well as clearly defined characters, works the best. But overall? If someone was to say to me, “hey Jodes, you saw Say It With Flowers, right? what was it about?”, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with an answer.

If I thought about it, I’d probably say “waiting”, an idea which seems to be a common thread throughout the piece (albeit a fraying thread). Everyone in this show is waiting in some way or another. The people in the first section are waiting for a fifth person to sit at their table, simultaneously intrigued and terrified at the prospect. In the second, the protagonist has been bitten by a viper and does not do what to do next, trapped in a kind of hysterical waiting state. And in the third section, waiting itself becomes a kind of pleasure, anticipation better than the events themselves.

But what does this add up to in the end? Waiting is complicated and confusing and sometimes scary and sometimes nice? Surely there is a better message than that. I felt a little like I did in the Gorky play yesterday, like the meaning had gone over my head (not a pleasant feeling for a theatre critic, let me tell you, especially experienced two nights in a row). This show was just plain weird. There were, however, some great performances. I don’t normally commend actors for remembering their dialogue, because, come on, that’s perhaps the most basic skill of acting, and if you can’t expect actors to know their words then what can you expect?, but in this case, I’ll make an exception, because remembering Gertrude Stein must be heinously difficult. (This is particularly true if you’ve ever seen Stein written – her punctuation is peculiar, to put it politely.) The ensemble did a great job with some truly bizarre material. Their ability to change character quickly and seamlessly was especially impressive.

But at the end of the day, this show was just strange. There’s not much more I can say about it. Worth seeing for the novelty of the promenade set, but... well, here’s a picture of a flower. ---<-@

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