chapter  6
"AMERICA IS MY COUNTRY": GERTRUDE STEIN AND THE AMERICAN AVANT-GARDE
Pages 27

Gertrude Stein passed away on July 23, 1946, but her drama has experienced a more fruitful life after her death than perhaps even she would have thought possible. In her seventy-two years, Stein witnessed only two performances of her work: Four Saints in Three Acts on Broadway in 1934 and a ballet adaptation of They Must. Be Wedded. To Their Wife., titled A Wedding Bouquet, by Lord Gerald Bemers in London in 1937. (A third production, Identity [1935] was staged in 1936 by Donald Vestal with puppets, but Stein did not attend either of its two performances in Chicago and Detroit, respectively.) In the years immediately following her death, both Yes Is for a Very Young Man and The Mother of Us All were produced, but for the first half of the twentieth century Stein's drama went largely unperformed and was for the most part unknown.! And yet, although Stein herself was rarely considered a playwright during her life and has rarely been treated as one since her death, perhaps her most enduring legacy resides in the theater, most especially in America. Stein's operas and drama are frequently found on American college campuses and professional productions of her plays and adaptations of her

nondramatic writing have steadily increased in the latter half of the twentieth century. As recently as the spring of 2003, two new theatrical adaptations of Stein's The Making of Americans (1925) have appeared: The first, Hashirigaki. (Japanese for "the act of walking, thinking, and talking at the same time") combined Stein's text with Brian Wilson's music in its American premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music while, simultaneously, the Gertrude Stein Repertory Theatre continued preparations for its major four-part digital theater adaptation of the same novel. If one surveys what has been called avant-garde,

Even a cursory look at the history of avant-garde theater in America demonstrates the pervasiveness of Stein's dramatic ideals. Her plays are scattered throughout the production histories of many of the most recognized experimental theater companies and artists, including the Living Theatre, the Judson Church Poets' Theater, Richard Foreman, Robert Wilson, Peter Sellars, the Wooster Group, and Anne Bogart. As Peter Sellars notes, "Gertrude Stein is a wonderful sort of return to Shakespeare in our century because she breaks up those sentence patterns and inverts them the way that Shakespeare did. And the inversions are very, very dramatic" (Bartow 274). Anne Bogart, concurs, reading Stein as a significant and uniquely American playwright: "Stein emerged out of the evangelical tradition which is hyper-American. The sounds of the words are more important than anything else. So she seems to be a quintessential American artist."2 In addition to those who have produced Stein's plays or created theater and film in admitted accordance with her dramatic principles, there are many more instances of avant-garde drama and cinema that have seemingly emerged from the same sources as Stein's dramaturgy without ever claiming such roots. While a playwright such as Suzan-Lori Parks readily invites comparisons with Stein's dramaturgy, less obvious, though no less compelling, playwrights include Tina Howe, Elizabeth Wong, and Mac Wellman. The performance artists Laurie Anderson and Karen Finley, the filmmakers Jack Smith and Nick Zedd, and the visual artists Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol also seem to have borrowed themes and techniques from the drama of Gertrude Stein.