Dallas — In 1905 the small Parisian residence at 27 Rue de Fleurus opened as a salon, a gathering space for intellectual conversation among creative artists with something interesting to say. The brother and sister residents, Leo and Gertrude Stein, were budding art collectors that started their collection with Matisse and Picasso. Saturday evening guests to their salon were curious to see which pieces in their rotating collection would be positioned on the walls of their 460 sq. ft. studio. Their Stein household of two became three in 1910 when Alice B. Toklas moved in. She never left, staying as a wife to Gertrude for the next 36 years. The eight years prior to Gertrude’s death were spent at 5 Rue de Christine.
It is there that we meet Alice as she reminisces about her life with Gertrude in Marty Martin’s The Necessary Luxury Company, produced by One Thirty Productions as part of the 2016 Dallas Pride Performing Arts Festival, presented by Uptown Players. The production is directed by Marty Van Kleeck.
Gene Raye Price is Alice, the woman often written about in shadow as if she were merely a supportive character in the story of Gertrude Stein. Here Alice speaks freely to the audience revealing a multi-faceted being of intelligence, grace, wit, and strength. Alice at 86 finds herself at a crisis point. Gertrude has died, leaving the art collection to Alice which should have been sufficient to care for her for the rest of her life. However, while Alice was away on a trip, Gertrude’s family took legal action that resulted in the removal of the artworks from Alice’s possession, and in the eviction of Alice from the residence she had shared with Gertrude. When we enter the story, Alice has hours to vacate the premises.
Price gives a wonderfully engrossing performance, keeping the audience engaged throughout, no small feat for a one-person play. She moves gracefully between élan and sorrow with honesty. Her recreation of the moment with her dying mother is quite lovely, touching without being manipulative. Price is quick and agile, smoothly incorporating the audience through repartee here and there. In doing so she establishes a salon atmosphere that is intimate and responsive.
The Stein-Toklas salon rose to significance because it introduced so many works of modern art. Their collection included the works of Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin, Manet, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. Among their friends and salon participants were literary artists Hemingway, Wilder and Fitzgerald. While Gertrude was the center of attention, it was Alice that managed their lives, protecting Gertrude in the process. They were married, as Alice describes it, and she did not interpret their love any other way. Price relays their story with the care and passion afforded to married couples that have been together and loved each other for a long time.
Thanks to very good hair and makeup (by Kleeck), Price looks remarkably like Toklas. The set design is lush and beautifully draped with swaths of fabric that suggest a French décor. Kleeck’s vision for this piece reflects a studied attention to period detail and aligns with existing images from the Stein-Toklas age. The space upstairs at Kalita, Frank’s Place, works very well for this production because of the entryway which becomes part of the set, creating the feel of entering someone’s home.
Playwright Marty Martin also wrote the one-woman play Gertude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein. The Necessary Luxury Company makes an important contribution to Pride festivities not because it tells of a marriage-in-practice between women during wartime Europe. It is important as the story of a woman standing in her truth with conviction and pride within her marriage, and within her relationship with the world-at-large. The Necessary Luxury Company is not about “lesbians in love.” It is about love.