Born in Dixie

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. ■

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