I was reminded Monday night upon entering the Armory (the Gerding, I mean), just how pretty the place is
. That's a good-looking theater
, there. I had come for The Moth, a humble storytelling event from New York City that had in the meantime taken on epic dimensions due to an NPR show and a nuttily popular podcast.
The show had sold out within three hours of going on sale December 1, fully a month and a half before the performance.
Before the show the performers were huddled tightly together in too-small chairs—it seemed punitive—at the darkened edge of the stage, which had been made to resemble a multi-tiered back porch (from which, we presume, such stories are told). The audience clamored in bright light.
The show began with what I could swear was the theme song to the Andy Griffith Show
, played on pizzicato violin by musician James Mason, who transitioned roughly—intentionally roughly, lightly squeakily, with the occasional complicated harmony—into “Somewhere Over The Rainbow
.” He was dressed, as was every single man who joined the stage that night, in a dinner jacket over incidental pants. This, like Mason's playing, is the NPR-casual style: gently folksy-ironic, patrician in its self-conscious humility.
The ghost of Garrison Keillor, indeed, hung over the preternaturally easy nature of host Tom Shillue,
although he looked a bit more like a cross between a slender Dick Gephardt
and Conan O'Brien. Shillue's humor was broad Caucasian-ethnic: peppered with jokes about how Jews don't know the difference between Protestants and Catholics, how Italians talk close and funny. I liked him. He was, like Bill Cosby and Ellen DeGeneres and very few others, a humanist comedian un-full of anger. He also reminded me of mid-century Hollywood's idea of a virtuous small-town mayor, albeit a Catholic one.
Of the storytellers, Kimberly Howard
(of local stage and arts board), and Lt. Dan Choi
(most recently of the U.S. Army) told similarly sentimental stories of coming out and being punished for it. The theme of the night was disobedience, and Howard had committed the crime of drinking under the influence of Seventh Day Adventism, whereas Choi had committed the equally heinous crime of being gay and actually talking about it—to Rachel Maddow, no less—while still under military commission. Howard spoke of being true to oneself, while Choi spoke of the transcendent, transforming nature of undeniable love. In the moral sweepstakes I think Choi won , but no one, I hope, was keeping track.
, local) and Boris Timanovsky
's stories were my two favorites of the night, so do forgive me if I leave them alone in my commentary and instead turn to the most extraordinary, which was Michaela Murphy's. Ms. Murphy was very petite and had the manner of someone who felt, as a child, that she was not enough listened to. She not only took but also throttled the stage.
It was a bravado display. She didn't so much speak as announce herself, moment by moment, with tightly tensed legs and arms outstretched. She Sprechstimme'd baseball tunes. Like Jerry Seinfeld and a long history of off-Broadway or Borscht Belt performers, she paused and mugged at applause points, cajoled the audience into sharing her enthusiasm. I resist such advances, as a rule; I also don't clap the downbeat, nor sing the chorus at stadium shows. But still, the story was admittedly so brimming overfull that it perhaps merited its breathless delivery. It involved, improbably, George Bush Senior and underage children and unpaid first-class rides and Rhode Island radio stations and All-Star Games and, somehow, Pete Goodyear (of Goodyear fame).
By the end I was on her side, and this is maybe the point of the whole event: that the mere act of really, truly listening to a true story not only inspires but demands empathy.