Pat Carroll; Gertrude Stein was never a bore
When Pat Carroll first told her mother she was doing reearch for a one-woman play about Gertrude Stein, her mother said, "That's nice, dear." But two days later, Miss Carroll's mother called her back on the phone. "Now this Gertrude Stein," she began, "wasn't she married to Julie Styne?"Skip to next paragraph
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That was four years ago. Today, after breaking New York theater records for the longest running one-person play, "Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein" is on the road across the United States and scheduled for a European tour this spring.
For her dynamic portrayal of the woman who was midwife to the birth of modern art and literature, Pat Carroll has won the Drama Desk Award for Best Actress of 1980, and the play has been awarded the Outer Circle Drama Critics' award for Best Production Off Broadway for 1980. Most important perhaps, Miss Carroll's mother has become the show's biggest fan.
"Mother's boring everybody to death by keeping scrapbooks," she says. "She will go up to absolute strangers and say, 'Do you want to see my scrapbooks?' . . . Aren't parents wonderful?
"But my kids get embarrassed and say, 'You have to stop Grandma from showing her scrapbooks.'
"And I say, 'You cannot stop Grandma from doing that. That's her pleasure and her joy, and you leave Grandma alone.'
"They say, 'Mother! She sits in the lobby of her building with her scrapbooks. She looks like a bag lady with her scrapbooks.'
"And I say, 'Do you kids know that that comes out of love. You must never stop anything that comes out of love. That's too wonderful, that's too marvelous.' . . . aren't kids rotten to their grandparents?"
As Pat Carroll lopes along, talking nonstop, one hopes Neil Simon is hiding behind one of the big cushy chairs in her hotel suite, taping this dialogue. The timing is flawless, her enthusiasm exhausting. And there are those raucous howls of laughter, echoes of the many zany ladies she has played in movies, costarring with Doris Day in "With Six You Get Egg Roll" and on television, as a series regular on "The Danny Thomas Show," "The Bobby Sherman Show," and "Busting Loose," and as guest star on specials and variety shows of Carol burnett, Red Skelton, and Danny Kaye. Her booming, sarcastic stage self has broken up a lot of game and talk shows and has sold a lot of soap powders and orange juice.
Theater critics have had a lot to say about the earthy wit and outrageous humor that Miss Carroll brings to her interpretation of Gertrude Stein. "Yes," she agrees, "I've probably put a lot of me in humor, although many people who knew her, who actually were friends of hers, have said it's true to her."
In a recent article in Horizon magazine ("I'm a paid author for the first time in my life -- thank you, Gertrude"), Pat Carroll writes about an incident that she discovered in her reading and research for the play.
"I looked for and found her humor, the humor most succinctly put for me in an anecdote about Stein's arrival in the United States for her triumphant tour of colleges and universities in 1934. She had been known in the United States mostly through parody, in mocking articles and verse couched in the idiosyncrasies of her style, repetition, obfuscation, and chimeric imagery.