Gertrude Stein and a Companion Offers Terrific Performances, Muddled Story

Claudia Wilkens and Barbara Kingsley

Claudia Wilkens and Barbara Kingsley

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were movers and shakers in France and Europe during the first half of the 20th century. The two Americans lived together for decades in a Parisian flat, entertaining the likes of Picasso while Stein worked on her signature writing.

It's a terrific story turned into a mediocre play by Win Wells. The current Jungle production, the eighth time the company has presented Gertrude Stein and a Companion during its 25-year history, rides high on the performances of the two actors, Claudia Wilkens (as Stein) and Barbara Kinglsey (as Toklas).

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The pair, the stars of the past seven productions, have longstanding chemistry and real depth of knowledge of the two characters. The affection and bond between the two historical women is felt in every moment onstage.

Wells's script muddles through six decades of history. Part of the conceit is that it starts in 1946, just as Stein has died. Her presence, however, stays with Toklas for decades as she navigates life without her beloved companion. Wells runs through the major highlights of their lives, from the first meeting to Stein's growing literary career to Toklas's final days, but mainly sticks to the surface without really delving into what made these two people tick.

We get clues, but much of that comes from the work done by Wilkens and Kingsley. The two are consummate character actors, and they disappear into their roles.

Bain Boehlke's moody set mainly provides a throne-like chair for Wilkens and an overstuffed desk for Kingsley, leaving the rest of the apartment, and the occasional trips outside, completely to our imagination. Boehlke's direction does the same, as it leaves plenty of space for the two actors to build and define their characters.


Gertrude Stein and a Companion Through March 23 The Jungle Theater 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis $25-$43 For tickets and more information, call 612-822-7063 or visit online.