In Circles Review – A Musical Rorschach

Jacque Lynn Colton (seated), Henry Arber, Kyle G. Fuller, Aaron Jung, P.T. Mahoney, Shelby Corley, and Ashlee Dutson in IN CIRCLES - Photo by Enci Box
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“Papa dozes; Mama blows her noses”- that’s just one of the lines from Gertrude Stein’s play, “A Circular Play.” And what does it mean? But Stein was more concerned about the music and sound of words than their meaning. Don’t forget her famous poetic line, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” When the late Al Carmines added actual music to Stein’s quirky words, a project born of ‘60’s experimental theater, the circle was complete. Here was Stein’s lush word salad enhanced by Carmines’ wide range of musical moments. There is no plot to this tale – but simply uber-talented musicians with melodic voices and flowing feet bringing to life the “in the moment” world of a well-known literary figure. 

Jacque Lynn Colton as Gertrude Stein – Photo by Enci Box

After the show, many of the cast were questioned about Stein’s possible hidden meanings in this musical romp. Each gave a different but eminently reasonable explanation of what was happening and why.  Perhaps the most interesting response came from the current Gertrude Stein herself (played to perfection by Jacque Lynn Colton, who appeared in off-Broadway’s original production of 1967): “When we presented the show 50 years ago, we talked about what it meant…then we asked a seven-year-old boy about the meaning, and he promptly told us that it was about two women who wanted to get married, another woman who lost her husband in the war, and people just wanting to be happy…that sums it up as well as any of us could.” IN CIRCLES may well be about everything – and nothing specific at all. Even the occasional shouted “Alice” (obviously a reference to Stein’s lover) was left deliberately vague.

Chloe Haven, Jacque Lynn Colton, Kyle G. Fuller, Henry Arber, Aaron Jung, and P.T. Mahoney – Photo by Enci Box

Despite the absence of a linear plot line, IN CIRCLES proved to be an entertaining journey spotlighting an exuberant group of talented actors with serious musical chops who literally danced circles around Ms. Stein as the joyous/happy/ melancholy/sad music slithered from musical director Kenneth J. Grimes’ piano into the audience’s ears. Cleverly directed by David Schweizer, IN CIRCLES kept the cast hopping. Although they admitted that this was a very difficult play to learn (given the absence of rational sense as it rolled along), they rose to the task enthusiastically. 

Henry Arber and Ashlee Dutson – Photo by Enci Box

Kudos to choreographer Kate Coleman, costume designer Ann Closs-Farley, scenic designer Mark Guirguis, lighting designer Chu-Hsuan Chang and the entire production team for their “in-your-face” efforts. As a tribute to Stein’s and Carmines’ talents and the Odyssey’s history, IN CIRCLES clearly fulfills its goal while reminding the audience that the Odyssey Theatre has been around through thick and thin. But be advised that IN CIRCLES may be an acquired taste. It was experimental in its day, and – in some respects – continues to be a different slant on theater. 

Henry Arber, Ashlee Dutson, Kyle G. Fuller, P.T. Mahoney, Jacque Lynn Colton, Chloe Haven, and Shelby Corley – Photo by Enci Box

IN CIRCLES runs through November 10, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets are $32 to $37 ($10 on Friday 9/20, Wednesday 10/16, and Friday 11/1). For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 Ext. 2 or go online.


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