When it comes to iconic lesbian figures, artistic wordsmith Gertrude Stein still ranks at the top. Her lauded poetry in Tender Buttons, celebrating its centennial, was ahead of its time. Yet, "it's not like we have to go back to Tender Buttons. It's like the world is still catching up to it," says Gary Heidt of Van Reipen Collective. "The language now sounds more current than it did in 1914. It's almost like Tender Buttons is shaping the way we think."
To commemorate this impressive milestone for Stein's Tender Buttons, Theater For The New City presents the world premiere of Van Reipen Collective's stage adaptation of the poetic masterpiece in three parts beginning this week. Heidt, dramaturg for all three plays and director of OBJECTS, says it's important to stage these works since "they were originally composed in response to a request for a play."
Stein's Tender Buttons also indicated modern same-sex marriage. "[Stein] is presenting a new kind of consciousness and a new way of breaking words out of grammar," Heidt explains. "And what she's doing, essentially, it's about lesbian marriage to a large extent. In order to create a new form of marriage that wasn't based on chatteldom, on property, she had to erase thousands of years of patriarchy." To do this Stein dismantled grammar. "So then, the words -- by crashing against each other in these different ways -- sort of unleashed the history of oppression against women," Heidt says.
A scene from FOOD | Photo by Gary Heidt
Tender Buttons has a reputation for being daunting, but seeing it in performance offers an immersive experience with the piece. "It's very playful," Niki Tulk, director of FOOD, explains. "It's a lot of fun as well... There are many purposes for the text, but I don't think one of them is to intimidate people."
Heidt agrees: "It's much easier to hear. So, if there is one chance to get to experience this poem and to go and hear a bunch of talented people interpret it, this is the chance to do it." Likewise, Cassandra Victoria Chopourian, an actress who will be in all three parts of the five-hour spectacle, hopes the audiences luxuriate in the experience. "[I want] people to delight in the words, the imagery, and sort of experience it as joyfully, playfully, and profoundly as they can," she says.