By Holli Harms
Using language to give language another realm of existence. Folding language back on itself to create new forms. Or, in other words, using language to dissect itself is what Four Saints in Three Acts, Gertrude Stein’s 1934 opera performed at the Target Margin Theater as a solo piece sans music with David Greenspan at the helm is all about.
It is mesmerizing and transforming all the while lulling one to a quiet comfort. It is not something that everyone will value as it is a deep pool you will be asked to stare intently into. But those who love the theater and appreciate artists that reach outside the norm and push themselves into an alternate orbit of performance will treasure and acknowledge this as another way of creating art with words.
Stein’s lyrics were meant for a chorus of performers, but that’s not what we get. Instead, we have the opera presented as one man on stage speaking with no music. No musical “instruments.” We have though the music of Greenspan’s voice and body. There is not a story per se, not a linear line to follow. Several saints come together to talk about themselves and each other, but the story is not the core of Stein’s opera or Greenspan’s performance. What is the essence is how words create movement. Stein herself said that for her, “the purpose of prose is to describe movement rather than static things.” Nouns she felt are static and verbs movement. What Greenspan has done is stripped away the sounds of singing and instruments and instead speaks Stein’s words utilizing her rhythms and repetitions, with his tones, accents, and volume, giving the words themselves the movement Stein wanted. Stein lived in Paris for most of her life in the company of abstract artists like Matisse and Picasso and their abstract art influenced her writing. She is not interested in punctuation as it slows the movement of the words. She strives to capture the beauty of sound, especially in repetition.
David Greenspan’s performance is lyrical and lovely, humorous and intriguing… beautiful. He is magical. It was the kind of performance you walk away from wanting to discuss it and the bigger questions it brings up of art and theater and their place in our lives, their importance to humanity, the tearing down of expectations of what theater should be, and the opportunities to open new doors to what theater and art could be. Picasso and Matisse did it, Stein did it, and now Greenspan.
Ken Rus Schmoll’s directing and Yuki Nakase Link‘s lighting and set design give quiet homage to the work, contributing to this study of a simple, saintly way of communicating art.
So glad I made the trip to Target Margin. If you love the arts you should make it as well.
The Lucille Lortel Theatre Presents Gertrude Stein’s Libretto of Virgil Thomson’s Opera “Four Saints in Three Acts” Performed by David Greenspan Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll
CREDITS Text: Gertrude Stein, Director: Ken Rus Schmoll, Performer: David Greenspan, Dramaturg: Jay Stull, Scenic and lighting design by Yuki Nakase Link, Production Stage Manager: Michal V. Mendelson, Production Manager: William Adams
TICKETS: The Lucille Lortel Theatre’s production of “Four Saints in Three Acts” will be showing at: The Doxsee @ Target Margin Theater 232 52nd Street, Brooklyn, NY 11220
Take R Train to 53rd street In Brooklyn
Telephone: (212)924-2817, Tickets are available HERE
Price: Ticket prices are $15, $25, or $35, with open seating and a pay-what-you-can pricing model.
Final Performance October 9, 2022
Runtime: 95 minutes; no intermission
Masks are required for the entirety of the performance. You will be asked to show your vaccination card.