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'A Rose Is a Rose' Is a Cubist Inspiration

November 21, 1987|MARK CHALON SMITH

Pat Bond realizes that her one-woman show about writer Gertrude Stein sometimes is pigeonholed as a testament to the gay life style. Bond, after all, is frank about her own lesbianism, and Stein's lifelong relationship with Alice B. Toklas is perhaps this century's most obvious symbol of sexual love between women.

But the 63-year-old actress/playwright from Mill Valley argues that such a view is simplistic and shortsighted. Bond, who is bringing "Gerty, Gerty, Gerty Stein is Back, Back, Back" to Saddleback College tonight , stresses that Stein's homosexuality is only a part of the modernist author's life and legend, and only a part of the production.

"This is definitely not a tract on lesbianism," she said. "God forbid that it gives advice (on being homosexual) or makes points about it. I do not intend to talk for all lesbians, in my show or anywhere else.

"Stein was a landmark of a great creative era," Bond continued. "Her life was fascinating because she made an impact as a writer and because she came in contact with some of the real geniuses of our age. Her love for Toklas is an important element, but only an element of her story."

Bond wrote "Gerty, Gerty" about eight years ago after poring through several volumes of biographical and autobiographical material. Through Bond's performance, we hear Stein's reflections on Picasso, Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson and Matisse, to name a few of the artists, authors and composers who visited Stein's Paris drawing room during the 1920s and 30s.

The audience learns, for instance, that Stein's own experimental Cubist language ("a rose is a rose is a rose") was inspired by Picasso's geometric revolutions on canvas, which set the foundation for much of the trailblazing art that followed. "Gerty, Gerty" also delves into Stein's relationship with Hemingway who, according to Stein, developed his rhythmic style after studying her own grammatical inventions.

"She thought she was a genius who had a great effect on people," Bond said. "She was also very gossipy (and) wrote and talked about everybody."

Here's a sampler:

On Picasso's art: "I thought his work was ugly, terribly ugly . . . but then I got to know him and understand about painting in a non-representational way."

On Hemingway: "Sherwood Anderson sent this flashing-eyed, deep-dimpled young man to my door. The young man said, 'Miss Stein, please teach me to write.' Alice never liked him. She didn't like the way he covered his sensitivity with violence."

On poet Ezra Pound: "He was a village explainer, which is wonderful if you are a village and not if you are not."

On the young James Joyce: "An unpromising Irish writer."

Bond laughs at that one. "She was very jealous of Joyce and his genius because he completely changed the language, which she tried to (do, but was) less successful."

Bond decided several years ago that she wanted to do something on Stein's life. Growing up gay in conservative Iowa and Illinois during the 1930s and 40s was difficult, but Bond found some solace in knowing that the legendary Stein was also a lesbian.

"We had no role models, nobody that could help us understand what we were," Bond said. "Then there was Stein."

Bond's first idea was to write a celebratory biography, but after gathering piles of information she decided it was best to put it all into drama form. Considering Bond's 40-year acting career, it was a natural step, and Bond and "Gerty, Gerty" began showing up on campuses and theaters from New York to California. The play's greatest exposure came in 1980, when it was broadcast nationally on PBS.

Bond has also written and performed one-woman shows on French writer Colette, radio evangelist Aimie Semple McPherson, Lizzie Borden and Eleanor Roosevelt. But she keeps returning to Stein.

"My audiences are definitely most interested in her for reasons I'm not completely sure about," Bond said. "Stein was so eccentric, so imperious (but) she also had a girlish fascination with things. Maybe that is why she intrigues people so."

"Gerty, Gerty, Gerty Stein is Back, Back, Back" starring Pat Bond will be presented tonight at 8 at Saddleback College's McKinney Theatre, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. Tickets: $2 to $5. Sold out. At 3:30 p.m. today in the McKinney Theatre, Bond will talk about Stein's life and times. Admission: free. Information: (714) 582-4763.

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