They had worked together before in ensemble shows and loved it. So Barb Ross and Laura Marr, two of Omaha's most widely respected stage actresses, had been looking for a duet project to do together for some time.
What they found was “Gertrude Stein and a Companion,” which opens Friday at the Circle Theater and continues for three more weekends.
Stein was a noted American art collector of modernist paintings in the early 20th century. She became a cutting-edge writer of novels, poetry and plays that broke the mold of linear, narrative storytelling.
Alice B. Toklas was Stein's lover. Their Paris salon became a hub for the pre-eminent artists of the day, such as novelist Ernest Hemingway and painters Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Paul Cezanne, to meet and talk about their art.
While Stein became famous as a writer, the importance of Toklas in her life was not commonly understood at the time, director Daena Schweiger said.
“Alice was the one who pushed her to present her writing to the world,” Schweiger said. “Gertrude didn't see that what she was writing could have the same influence on her artform as a Hemingway novel or a Picasso painting.”
Toklas sold some of the art the couple owned to pay for publishing “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” a 1933 book that put Stein on the map as a writer.
In the play, Gertrude's spirit (Ross) visits Alice (Marr) on the day of Gertrude's death in 1946.
“In a lot of ways it's a memory play,” Schweiger said. “Alice is in the present, but she goes back in time to revisit fond memories.”
Schweiger directed Ross as Joan Didion in the critically praised one-woman show “The Year of Magical Thinking” in 2011 at the Circle. Marr, a co-founder of the Circle, starred most recently as Martha in a July 2012 production of “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf” there.
“It's been a real pleasure directing them,” Schweiger said. “Their attention to detail is wonderful, and they always come prepared. They had the show memorized early, and rehearsals have just soared since then.”
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