Gertrude Stein upended words. She spun them every which way, repeated them any number of times, got them to do new, unexpected things. Stein could make you see the world differently — even in what was ostensibly a children's book.
"The World is Round," published in 1939, is at once simple and complex. Mostly, it's just disarming. You could say the same for an imaginative stage adaptation of this slender work that Lola B. Pierson has fashioned and directed in an Acme Corporation/Annex Theater co-production at a Station North church.
The opening of Stein's book is enough to prepare you for an unusual ride: "Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around." The main character is a girl named Rose, who wonders "if the world is round would a lion fall off," and who imagines said lion being blue — "Of course she knew that a lion is not blue but blue was her favorite color."
There's a trace of a narrative that has to do with Rose climbing mountains, which can be interpreted as a girl's journey of self-discovery. It's also possible to regard the whole thing merely as whimsical wordplay.
Pierson seizes on both angles, turning Stein's verbal color into an intriguing theatrical experience that mingles the childlike with the knowing, the sweet with the bittersweet.
Jenn Wasner, of the bands Wye Oak and Flock of Dimes, provides refreshing original music that fits into the concept perfectly, right from the first statement of a haunting refrain in the show: "I am a little girl and my name is Rose/Rose is my name/Why am I a little girl/And why is my name Rose." (The engaging score also includes amusing send-ups of a couple of popular Broadway songs.)
Heading the sturdy cast of seven is Cricket Arrison, whose intensely focused performance as Rose adds an extra, darker layer to the proceedings. Nicholas Parlato is a charmer as Rose's supposed cousin, Willie. The visual look — projections, puppets, lots of white cloth — is another plus in this subtle production.
If you have yet to experience Baltimore's alternative theater scene, this would make a great introduction. (The intimate performance space is not air-conditioned, so you might want to dress sparingly.)
On just about every level, "The Word is Round" is a remarkable little gem. It lasts only about 45 minutes, but leaves a much longer glow.