Setting: 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris, France through the two World Wars.
27 is a prologue and five acts about the American writer Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas. 27 follows the salons hosted by Gertrude and Alice in their home at 27 rue de Fleurus (27 Fleurus Street) in Paris. Spanning about forty years, 27 explores the relationship between Gertrude and Alice while touching upon ideas of genius and collaboration. 27 was commissioned by the Opera Theater of Saint Louis in 2014.
Prologue: Alice Knits the World
Alice B. Toklas sits in the living room at 27 rue de Fleurus and thinks back to the life she shared with Gertrude Stein.
Act One: 27 rue de Fleurus
Gertrude enters her salon and invites her guests to peruse her collection of art. Pablo Picasso unveils his painting of Gertrude in a ceremony that causes Leo Stein to become upset and Henri Matisse to be jealous. Leo announces that he is moving to Italy and angrily leaves the salon. Gertrude and Alice celebrate his departure and the “bells of genius and love” chime.
Act Two: Zeppelins
Gertrude and Alice endure the First World War in Paris. Gertrude continues to write as cold sets in and food becomes scarce. An American doughboy, a term for members of the American Expeditionary Forces, stationed in Paris becomes their friend. He gives them coal and cigarettes but does not return with sought-after eggs. They add the boy to the tally of a “Lost Generation.”
Act Three: Génération Perdue
After the war, Gertrude becomes more interested in writers than painters. She is now welcoming the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as the photographer Man Ray. Hemingway and Fitzgerald are desperate for Gertrude’s endorsement. Gertrude insists that the two should engage in a wrestling match, and the winner will be declared a genius. The writers are kicked out of the salon as the Second World War approaches.
Act Four: Gertrude Stein is Safe, Safe
Gertrude and Alice survive the Second World War by sacrificing paintings. Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude plagues her conscience, asking her to explain how a Jewish-American author survived Nazi-occupied France. The guilt eats away at her and she dies in Alice’s arms.
Act Five: Alice Alone
Alice, now alone, is surprised by Picasso’s return. They say goodbye to the portrait of Gertrude as it is shipped off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Picasso sketches an image of Gertrude for Alice as the “bells of genius and love” chime once more.