The performance organization, Speaking Of Stories, will offer a new set of live actors telling stories to a live audience Sunday and Monday at Center Stage Theater. The set, called “Stories From The Neighborhood,” will feature Dan Gunther reading “Dave and the Dentist” by Canadian humorist Stuart McClean; Robert Lesser reading “Your Lover Just Called” by John Updike; Anne Torsiglieri reading “The Occasional Garden” by Saki; and Susan Keller reading “Bridge” by Nancy Huddleston Packer.
Just about the only thing these four stories all have in common is that they were all (beautifully) written, before they were spoken out loud. The authors come from Canada (McLean), Pennsylvania (Updike), Burma (Hector Hugh Munro, a.k.a. “Saki”), and Alabama (Packer). Munro was killed on the Western Front, by a sniper, in 1916. Updike died four years ago. McLean and Packer are still with us, fortunately, and McLean — often dscribed as a “story-telling comic” — still has his popular weekly radio show, The Vinyl Cafe running on CBC, while he has frequently taken the show on tour of Canada and the United States, rather in the manner of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. He has published many books, most recently several collections of the stories he tells on The Vinyl Cafe.
Packer, who earned an MA in Theology from the University of Chicago, married (1958) a Stanford University law professor and moved to Palo Alto. She had already published several stories by then, and immediately began taking creative writing courses at Stanford, took to teaching them, and joined the English faculty there in 1968, retiring in 1993. Despite the Chicago and Palo Alto connections, she remains a Southern writer to the core.
Munro (1870-1916) is easily the most exotic of these authors. He was born in Burma, the son of a rear admiral’s daughter and the inspector-general for the Burmese police (Burma being then still part of the British Empire). After a hitch in the Burma police — like George Orwell, a generation later — Munro became a newspaper correspondent, short-story writer and playwright. The Wikipedia assessment of him — “He is considered a master of the short story and often compared to O. Henry and Dorothy Parker. Influenced by Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling, he himself influenced A.A. Milne, Noël Coward and P.G. Wodehouse.” — doesn’t suggest the depths of his uniqueness as a writer.
Munro more or less invented his own genre of story, which died with him. His stories are amusing rather than hilarious, with the laughter coming out more as a gasp than a hee-haw, and there are often passages that are truly horrifying, as Flannery O’Connor could be truly horrifying, without losing the humorous tone. In 1977, the Welsh actor and author, Emlyn Williams, toured with a one-man-show of 16 Saki stories, told in the character of a composite of his most famous narrators, Reginald and Clovis. The show was called The Playboy of the Weekend World. “The Occasional Garden” was published in 1919, in a posthumous collection called The Toys of Peace.
“Stories From The Neighborhood” will be spoken at 2 p.m. Sunday and at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Center Stage Theater in Paseo Nuevo.
Admission is $25 general and $15 for students and military. Tickets are available at the door ir by phone at 805.963.0408, or click here to purchase tickets online.