Gertrude Stein’s characters have it rough. Men have the moral stature of lapdogs while women face all of life’s challenges. But such female independence — especially the kind the author knew while midwifing Paris’s Lost Generation — does have its rewards. In “The World Is Round,” her children’s story written late in her career as America’s infamously misunderstood literary modernist, Stein adapts her views on gender and empowerment for the swing-set class, giving girls a Rose (as in, “is a rose is a rose …” ) who is more than just a pretty face. In fact, she climbs mountains.
Ripe Time, Rachel Dickstein’s young Brooklyn company that relishes the challenge of interpreting difficult texts through music and movement, is well served by Stein’s singsong tale of female agency. They, in turn, make generous use of Clement Hurd’s whimsical illustrations that accompanied the 1939 publication, setting a cosmic tone somewhere between Le Petit Prince and Japanese woodblock art (Mimi Lien’s resplendent sets).
As the wide-eyed heroine, a waifish Kristen Sieh scales the heights of awakening ambition with girlish aplomb, facilitated by Nicki Miller’s aerial choreography. Grace McClean, in the role of a mature Rose, carries Heather Christian’s alternately impalpable and rugged score, ably supported by Hannah Heller (a guilelessly naughty Willy, Rose’s cousin) and Blake DeLong (an imaginary lion).
Inspired, nearly fervid, the production robustly embraces Stein’s aesthetic purposes of pursuing spatial self-referentiality over narrative linearity. Ripe Time’s World does the Mother Goose of Montparnasse proud.