David Greenspan presents Gertrude Stein's Plays
DG Right. Well, she says that something is always happening. And that anybody knows a quantity of stories, so what's the use of telling another story? There are already so many stories. I think what she's trying to get at is that there is something beyond simply telling the story. There's some essence of what is happening. And she's trying to depict [that] without actually telling a story. It's almost a series of impressions that she's molding, almost like a sculpture, to give an audience a sense, without a story, of an experience. Of course, in The Myopia I pickled it because The Myopia is filled with stories. In a sense, I use it as a way of separating myself from her because my concerns are different. But I still find her delightful.
SFBG What do you think of Stein's plays?
DG I've seen a few of them on stage. They're difficult to describe, and they're difficult for me to talk about. The closest experience I've ever had to performing in something like Stein would be a Richard Foreman play. I acted for Richard Foreman once. His work eschews traditional action. It's somewhat different, but it's the closest I've come to something like Stein. Like she says, she's not interested in story and action. She's interested in emotion and time.
I think also what she's interested in is coordinating to her own satisfaction a visual and aural experience, one that is not dependent on following a story. Because she had problems with that, she found that it bothered her to have to pay attention, particularly if it was a story that had any kind of nuance. She wanted to keep backing up and seeing it again and couldn't do it. But to get back to your question, the plays themselves I can't speak to, but the lecture itself with its analysis and observations of the theater experience — and it's a very personal lecture, very personal descriptions for her — and the rich theatrical reminiscences, I find very satisfying and continually intriguing. Also it begins to elucidate what she was trying to do in her plays.
SFBG What kinds of things do audiences relate to?
DG When she describes her experience of theater as a young person, it's all about San Francisco and Oakland. So it should give people a little bit of a peep hole into what it was like to see theater [back then]. It was very important to her, the arrival of foreign companies. And Sarah Bernhardt came through, and that was an important thing for her to see. It was very significant for her to see a play in a language she really didn't understand. She didn't have to follow it. She could just listen to it and look at it without dealing with a story. That's what's most important to her — how to coordinate seeing and hearing in the theater.
DAVID GREENSPAN'S PLAYS
Thurs/26, 7 p.m.; Sun/29, 1 and 4 p.m., $20
Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission, SF