Tales from the South, presented by Speaking of Stories.
At the Lobero Theatre,Monday, February 27.
All the little boy wants to do is be a girl. It’s the South, it’s the closeted 1950s, and no one knows his secret save a local fortune teller, a legend in his N’Awlins neighborhood. Will she take advantage of him? Truman Capote’s tale, “Dazzle,” is one of four which came to life last Monday at the Lobero, where Santa Barbara’s Speaking of Stories presented its latest offering, Tales from the South. The series features well-known actors reading short stories by famous authors, and this go-around showcased four of the South’s most beloved literary figures.
Every story featured countless characters, settings, and mood changes, yet each actor brought his or her pages to life. Performing sans theatrical costume on a bare stage marked only by a lectern and vase of flowers, the quartet transported its audience to another time and place — by the end, I felt like I had actually visited the fortune teller of “Dazzle.”
Christina Allison, opera singer and local theater actress, embodied a feisty old woman in Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path.” The story lagged a bit toward the middle, and her Southern accent sometimes faltered, but overall the molasses-voiced Allison kept her audience engrossed as she took us on a tour of an elderly Southerner’s daily life. George Backman — in costume of sorts, wearing a flamboyant magenta tunic — did a superb job with “Dazzle.” Though a grown man, he embodied the little boy’s curiosities, fears, and, in the heartbreaking final moments, his shame as a homosexual in an unforgiving community. The evening’s most familiar reading came from John Toole’s “Confederacy of Dunces.” Rudy Willrich read an excerpt from the political satire in a disarming, sarcastic, and matter-of-fact voice which perfectly underplayed the novel’s madcap farce.
The evening’s high point came with Charles de L’Arbre’s performance of “Nativity, Caucasian” by Allan Gurganus. In a small town, a young woman goes into labor during a bridge party, and is forced to deliver her baby in a kitchen surrounded by casseroles, hysterical friends, and bumbling paramedics. L’Arbre infused his storytelling with lighthearted humor, letting his audience know that he too was enjoying himself.
The next Speaking of Stories event is March 27, when screen actors Christopher Lloyd and Annabeth Gish will take the stage at the Lobero. If Tales from the South was any indication, this next offering is not to be missed. ■