Liminal Presents Gertrude Stein: Yes, there is there here.

Willamette Week, March 21, 2012

By Ben Waterhouse

Reversing entropy is no easy endeavor. “It’s crazy,” John Berendzen says as he crosses the threshold of the gutted office space where he’s summoning the ghost of Gertrude Stein. “I’ve been driving all over town picking up the stuff we gave away.”

Berendzen—a composer, music director and sound designer who looks like a friendly Beethoven—is reassembling the dispersed remains of Liminal Performance Group, the company he co-founded in 1997. Over 10 years Liminal produced a dozen performances that tested the boundaries of Portland theater. Liminal went into hibernation when the group’s director, Bryan Markovitz, left for New York. There has been no production under the brand since 2007.

Now Liminal is back—at least in name—with Gertrude Stein, a collection of performances inspired by the strange, hypnotic poems and plays of the enigmatic writer that will fill the entire first floor of the mid-renovation headquarters of the design firm Happylucky. Participants include poet David Abel, who will read early works by Stein; comics artist Sandra Gibbons, with panels drawn from Tender Buttons; Doug Theriault and Stephen Miller, with a sound and video installation adapted from Plays; and Markovitz and Ben Purdy, with an installation of objects based on The Making of Americans.

The centerpiece of the event is two musical performances. The first is Virgil Thompson’s 1927 all-male setting of Stein’s odd play Capital Capitals, accompanied by new video by Anna and Leo Daedalus. It will be followed by Berendzen’s musical setting of One Dancing, Stein’s word portrait of the dancer Isadora Duncan. Berendzen was introduced to the piece by director Camille Cettina, who had long wanted to turn it into a performance. One Dancing is a repetitive-sounding prose poem that never actually repeats, so Berendzen composed musical phrases for Stein’s verbs, which come together in sometimes surprising combinations. “It goes from speaking to almost operatic arias,” Berendzen says. He and Cettina are directing the four singers (all women) in a lengthy dance/song/theater event that will fill the space. Don’t worry—there will be beer.