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Captain Walter Arnold, Subjectively Realized

aseidman's picture


For this project, I took one of what Gertrude Stein calls her “plays,” and considered what would happen if I were to try to stage and direct it. After reading through it, I attempted to break it down into characters, lines, and to imagine a setting in which it would logically take place.

But first, let’s look at “Captain Walter Arnold” just the way Gertrude Stein wrote it, without any additional directions from me.


Captain Walter Arnold

By Gertrude Stein


Do you mean to please me.

I do.

Do you have any doubt of the value of food and water.

I have not.

Can you recollect any example of easy repetition.

I can, and I can mention it. I can explain how by twice repeating you change the meaning, you actually change the meaning. This makes it more interesting. If we attach it to a person we make for realization.

Do you really mean you have no preferences.

I cannot visualize the condition.

By that time I am free to say that we have made offers of finding the right name for everything.

Do you know that you are careful.

Do you see the state of your purse.

Have you been told that I will give you more if you ask for it.

Or do you not care to receive a favor.

Certainly you wish to be helped.

Let me help you.

Do not refuse me.

You can regulate your expenditure.

It is unreasonable.

Not because you do it.

Not because you do not do it.

Standard pieces.

Eating and drinking.

Can you forget Minerva.

I make the mistake.

I mean Monica.

Can you forget Monica.

Or Polybe.


Act II

A dazzling dress. We dazzle altogether.


Now, let’s look at that same play, re-interpreted for the stage by a director. Here is “Captain Walter Arnold,” interpreted through the lense of my own subjective reality.



Captain Walter Arnold

A Play

Written by Gertrude Stein

Directed by Arielle Seidman




Captain Walter Arnold – a 40 year old sea captain, who is about to leave home on another sea voyage.

Minerva – his wife

Monica – his daughter, age 10

Polybe – his cat


[The CAPTAIN and MINERVA are standing together in the doorway of their shared home. The CAPTAIN is loaded down with luggage, having apparently packed all of his things for a long journey to somewhere or other. MINERVA has tears in her eyes, and at first refuses to look at him. The atmosphere between them is tense and uncomfortable. Finally, MINERVA whirls arounds and almost begs him-]


MINERVA: Do you mean to please me?


CAPTAIN: (carefully) I do. (pause) Do you have any doubt of the value of food and water?

MINERVA: I have not…(snidely, changing the topic) Can you recollect any examples of easy repetition? (she waits, but the CAPTAIN keeps a stony, stoic silence) I can, and I can mention it. I can explain how by twice repeating-

CAPTAIN (cutting her off) You change the meaning.

MINERVA (accusingly) You change the meaning! (she begins to pace, speaking sarcastically) This makes it more interesting. If we attach it to a person, we make for realization.

CAPTAIN: Do you really mean-

MINERVA: (cutting him off) You have no preferences?

CAPTAIN: I cannot-

MINERVA (cutting him off again) Visualize the condition.

CAPTAIN: By that time, I am free to say that we have made offers-

MINERVA: (sarcastically) Of finding the right name for everything. Do you know that you are careful?

CAPTAIN: Do you see the state of your purse?

MINERVA: (beseechingly, desperately) Have you not been told that I will give you more if you ask for it?


[The CAPTAIN, somewhat taken aback by this, says nothing, and turns a little red. MINERVA becomes cold and a little haughty.]

MINERVA: Or do you not care to receive a favor?

CAPTAIN: (gently, imploringly) Certainly, you wish to be helped. Let me help you.

MINERVA: Do not refuse me.

CAPTAIN: You can regulate your expenditure. (pause, then, more angrily) It is unreasonable!

MINERVA: (harshly) Not because you do it.

CAPTAIN: (gently, but firmly) Not because you do not do it.


[The CAPTAIN takes MINERVA’s hand, and gestures around at the furniture and objects in the sparsely decorated room.]


CAPTAIN: Standard pices. Eating and drinking.

MINERVA: (ignoring his speech, almost in tears) Can you forget Minerva?


[Giving up, the CAPTAIN starts to leave out the front door. Even as he is about to leave, MONCA runs in, holding POLYBE in her arms. MINERVA grabs at the CAPTAIN’s sleeve, while MONICA looks mournfully on.]


MINERVA: I make the mistake! I mean Monica! Can you forget Monica?

MONICA: Or Polybe?

[Lights go down on the tableau, as the CAPTAIN stands, frustrated and indecisive, in the doorway, with his family looking on helplessly. Fade to black.]


I’d be very curious to hear your interpretations, both of what happened in Stein’s original play, and of what happened in the scene that I just described to you. Even with some of the clarifications I’ve made, is the scene still ambigiuous, and subject to subjective reality? If so, why? Is it possible to assign concrete plot and character to Stein’s plays, or should we not even try?

I did briefly consider whether or not it would be possible to stage Stein’s “Captain Walter Arnold” without assigning lines to individual characters. Unfortunately, my experience of plays, and my definition of the word “play” requires that individuals take some action on stage, and that lines from the script be spoken to an audience. The only other way that I could think of to assign lines would be to have individuals who are uncharacterized come up on stage and speak Stein’s lines. Not only would that bore me, but it would give me a great deal of difficulty. There is no definite way of arranging the lines, or of separating them up in any particular order.

Again, your thoughts are welcome! Feel free, if you like, to re-interpret this play and to write a re-staging of it. It would be interesting to see how ideas differ and what (if any) possibilities this work offers by way of performance.






Work Cited


Stein, Gertrude. Geography and Plays. The Four Seas Company. 1922.



Anne Dalke's picture

On not having a limited number of kinds of difference...

(Stein, photographed here by Man Ray, adjacent to Picasso's portrait
of who she was, seeming to call her flesh-and-blood self into account...)

I like what you've done. First, because you'd warned me, months ago, that you loathed Stein--so I'm delighted to see you taking her on directly. Bravo! Second, because you give a shape and form to what is (as always w/ her) so free-floating, so hard to follow. And I very much like the little story that emerges in your structuring (I also have lots of questions, such as: how did Polybe get to be a cat? Rather than, say, Polly, a parrot?).

Third, I like this most of all because you invite a re-staging...which I think, really, is the take-home point here. If what Stein (following James, with whom she took seven courses) is about is nudging us to avoid reiterating old habits, to escape some closed systems (of method, of interpretation, of thought), to search for a way to enact conversations that might be more interactive, and therefore inevitably more unpredictable, in their outcomes...then there cannot ever be one staging. In fact, there can not even be only two. As Mark Lord (who put on the only staging of Stein I've ever seen) said when he put a toe in this conversation,

The big point (one of the big points) that I take from Stein is that there are not a limited number of kinds of difference. The distinctions that we make between two kinds of *anything* focus our attention on that separation as if there were not an infinite number of other ways of dividing the same thing. The danger is that one way of making a distinction begins to seem to us as if it is the whole game. We can play at form and content, or conservative and liberal, or directed/reacting and those distinctions may sometimes shine a little useful light on things. But the big light is that there is no single rubric which will organize things in a way that contains our experience. We get further (I do) when we admit that there are different differences from the ones that tend to guide our thinking. And by employing different differences from the ones we customarily use, we can both see more and more accurately, and we can see (better) what we can't see, what we aren't seeing.