There is no dinner there at Dinner, a performance happening at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in conjunction with its current exhibition, Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories, part of a summer-long, city-wide celebration of Stein and her artistic legacy. (There are 2 more performances of Dinner today, June 5th, at 1pm and 4pm.)
Such sly sleight-of-hand may have pleased Stein, who loved to upend even the simplest of words, and the most basic of readers' expectations, until they were stretched out, turned around, repeated ad infinitum to become something utterly new, intentionally teetering between poetry and profundity, banality and babble.
Then again, Stein and her lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas, loved a good dinner, as any reader of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook would know. With their taste for both solid American home cooking and (to contemporary eyes) unimaginably elaborate French cuisine bourgeoise, the ladies might have found it hard to get through 2 hours of clamorous jazz and spoken word on the wee buffet provided by Bar Bambino. On a side table were deviled eggs, slivers of frittata, and tiny olive-and-mozzarella crostini, followed at intermission by one-bite polenta-kumquat cakelets and matchbook-sized wedges of Tcho chocolate cake.
Unless, of course, Alice had slipped a couple of sticky pieces of her cookbook's infamous Hashish Fudge into her purse. That's right, fudge, not brownies, and not the tourist-trap chocolate kind, either, but a much more Moroccan-minded mixture of dates, figs, almonds, and spices, plus a dusting of enough cannabis sativa to provoke "euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one's personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected."
However, as the surrounding exhibit revealed, Stein and Toklas had a high tolerance for eccentricity, their own and those of the many genius Bohemians they cultivated and whose work they collected. Dinner, therefore, is organized around the idea of a dinner party populated by an odd lot of history's eccentrics, half known (Virginia Woolf, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Hart Crane, Salvador Dali, Stein herself), half lost to footnotes, if that.