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‘Pink Melon Joy’ at Cloud City

I saw the Stein: Gertrude Stein play brings the weird to Williamsburg

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This play is a tongue-twister and a mind-bender.

The first New York City production ever of Gertrude Stein’s “Pink Melon Joy” opens in Williamsburg on June 27, but the play’s funky format means audience members are mostly on their own when trying to figure out what the dialogue actually means.

“Stein had more interest in the rhythm of language than the structure of the story,” said Shannon Sindelar, artistic director for Brave New World Repertory Theatre, which is producing the show.

Brave New World focuses on works from Brooklyn writers, but also dives into the classics. Its past performances have stood out for their unorthodox venues, such as a production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” staged across six porches in Ditmas Park and a version of “The Tempest” on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The unique aspect of this production, however, is not the setting — it is showing at the Williamsburg performance space Cloud City — but rather the script.

The play, which Stein completed in 1921, reads like a modernist ode to the hidden meanings of language. “Let us take boats,” reads one passage. “Boats are ships. We will not take ships. Ships are doors.”

At first glance, it appears to be little more than a meandering string of non sequiturs. But looking a little closer, a viewer can start to find more meaning.

“You have to form your own thoughts around it and make your own choices,” Sindelar said.

Sindelar sees the play as exploring relationships and the performative aspects of our personalities — especially the way we act at home.

“It gets at the strangeness of domestic life and intimacy,” she said.

In some ways “Pink Melon Joy” embodies what much of Stein’s work is about. It uses language as a tool of abstraction, engendering ideas through sound, repetition, and subtle implication. The script does not describe any settings and does not delineate the dialogue of individual characters. It is modernist, experimental, and puts a lot of onus on the viewer. Its ambiguity also means no two productions of the play will be the same.

“With Gertrude Stein you’re always re-inventing,” said Sindelar. “Interpreta­tions can fluctuate so wildly.”

If this all sounds a bit hard to digest, don’t worry — the audience will get a bit of priming before the curtains go up. A talk will give some background information about Stein and the importance of her work. It will also clue audience members in on the play’s strange landscape and give them an idea about what to expect.

“We want the audience to realize they can take part in forming the story themselves,” Sindelar said.

“Pink Melon Joy” at Cloud City [85 N. First St. between Wythe Avenue and Berry Street in Williamsburg, www.bravenewworldrep.org]. June 27 at 7 pm, June 28 at 2 pm and 7 pm. $15–25.

Updated 11:48 am, June 24, 2014
Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
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