Circular Play

“Artistic Students Perform an Unusual Play at UMF”

article by Daniel Myrand, original published in the Farmington Flyer, March 24, 2011.

“Gertrude Stein” (Emma Nelson) and “Alice B. Toklas” (Breanna DeLuca)

Students from The Splendid Drunken Twenties class, Poetry and Pragmatism class, and the University of Maine at Farmington’s (UMF) Creative Arts Ensemble united in mid-March to read Gertrude Stein’s “A Circular Play.”

The play could straightforwardly be described as unique if not absurd or even illogical.

Four people stood in the doorway greeting attendees.  “Here, please read the words in bold.”  The pink paper contained broken unintelligible sentences, single words, and gibberish, some of which was in bold.

The projection of a red square was apportioned three dimensionally atop a square opening. The opening adjoined perpendicular white walls.

The performers’ costumes varied from very elaborate dresses, outfits, wigs and make up, to no costume at all.  Small groups of students formed human circles around a large square room broken by an open central stairway.  Other students sat on a small, two step stage, or stood near the front of it.

Performers:  Jeremiah Roper, Kerensa Palmer, Adam Coffin, Amanda Bissonette

Performers: Kevin Gulliver , Ian Davis, Tom Ferland

“A Circular Play” began.

The actors and actresses commenced reading their lines. Confusion ensued.  Sentence structure and order were absent from the lines they articulated.  They babbled on to each other in fantastic dreamlike conversations.  Unnatural statements spewed in a bewildering anti-pattern.  High and then low, here and there, passionately and then dispassionately the words rang without clear meaning.  One spoke, then 30 or more simultaneously, then one. Unrelated statements mingled and swirled in incompatible consortiums. Guitars and drums began, surged, faded, and started again.

A circle of readers, from above, with confetti.

An interpretive dancer fluttered and dipped about, her moves connected yet somewhat independent of the rhythms of the instruments and voices.

“Crushed circle.” “Strawberries or meat.” “Conversions and remorse.” “I gather in a circle.”

The audience read their lines aloud alongside the performers.

After the show spirits were high as students and teachers, playfully known as “instigators” or “visionaries,” conversed about the performance.

“One of the things about Stein is that she denies the reader of a stable sense of the meaning of the text” said Kristen Case, Professor English at UMF. Case accompanied four “instigators” including UMF Professors Michael Johnson, Gustavo Aguilar, and Elizabeth Olbert.

The mysterious and confusing nature of the play would not be disentangled by Case; “The reader will have to figure out what’s going on.” said Case. “It’s a collective experiment.”

Johnson went on to explain the nature of the play and why people get so mystified when trying to wrap their heads around it. “It isn’t something to understand, it’s just something to take in and experience,” he said.

UMF students Emma Nelson and Breanna DeLuca played the characters Gertrude and Alice, the narrators of the play.

“A lot of things are insinuated in Stein’s writing.” Nelson said, “It depends on how you say the words, it’s really abstract and really cool. They have two meanings so you can look at it two different ways.”

DeLuca, a last minute add-on, took on the role of narrator with little time to prepare.  She was brought in to read just a day before the performance. “I was supposed to be the costume consultant, it’s stressful but fun,” she said.

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