Reading Aloud

This past Friday G and I set aside our excuses and went for a lovely little date night out. We were yearning to do something out of the ordinary, seeing as we spend quite a bit of our free time at home, working alongside each other and taking periodic breaks to eat cheese and watch HGTV reruns.

We decided to see if we could get last-minute tickets to Radiolovefest’s Selected Shorts, which was playing nearby us at BAM. After snagging the best available seats at the box office, we purchased two sippy cups of white wine and settled in to be read to by the likes of Cynthia Nixon, John Cameron Mitchell, Anika Noni Rose and Amy Ryan.

Radiolovefest Selected Shorts, March 2016

Radiolovefest Selected Shorts, March 2016

If you’re not familiar with the series, Selected Shorts is a weekly public radio broadcast of short fiction, as performed live by a rotating cast of actors. Our evening’s theme, “Dangers and Discoveries,” is not currently available on their podcast, but they do offer an excellent selection of readings for free.

This was truly a show made for both of us. For Gregg, who is a sound editor by trade and who also happens to be working on John Cameron Mitchell’s next film, the rhythms of the live performances and the echoing soundscape of the theater were a pleasant departure from his carefully controlled post-production cocoon.

For me, of course, there was the writing. Hearing the intonation of the words and the natural flow of the sentences reminded me how strongly dialogue informs storytelling.

My favorite short was, “Pie Dance” by Molly Giles, which I could only locate a digital copy of in this excerpt from The Flannery O’Connor Award: Selected Stories. A memorable passage follows:

… “I know I am boring. I am growing dull as Mrs. Dixon, Konrad’s mother, who goes on and on about her poodle and who, for a time, actually sent us birthday cards and Christmas presents signed with a poodle paw print. I clasp the broom with both hands and gaze fondly at Stray. I am too young to love a dog; at the same time I am beginning to realize there isn’t that much to love in this world. So when Pauline says, “Can it do tricks?” I try to keep the rush of passion from my eyes; I try to keep my voice down.

“He can dance,” I admit. 

“How great,” she says, swaying on the railing. “Truly great.”

“Yes,” I agree. I do not elaborate. I do not tell Pauline that at night, when the children are asleep, I often dance with him. Nor do I confess that the two of us, Stray and I, have outgrown the waltz and are deep into reggae. Stray is a gay and affable partner, willing to learn, delighted to lead. I could boast about him forever, but Pauline, I see, already looks tired.”

Delivered beautifully by Cynthia Nixon, the story burst alive with the line “I don’t know what to do about my husband’s new wife,” and continued to carefully peel open, layer by layer, until it revealed its delightful, twisting core. Do read it. Read it aloud, even.

John Cameron Mitchell, reading “Joplin and Dickens” by Padgett Powell, was animated and uproarious. But to me, the standout performance of the night was Anika Noni Rose’s soulful portrayal of Ruby in Megan Mayhew Bergman’s “Hell-Diving Women” — an unnerving tale of love and violence in America’s first integrated all-girl swing band.

I don’t manage to fit much live radio into my schedule, and in the past I haven’t committed fully to any particular podcast, but I think I may have just found my newest addiction.

We ended the evening deliriously happy and, as usual, deliriously hungry, so we polished it off with pulled pork and cornbread at Smoke Joint, as you do when you’re craving highbrow comfort food.

Feeling sated and staring at Gregg over our empty plates, I suddenly remembered how early in our relationship, I would read stories aloud to him on a car trip or in bed on a lazy, sunny morning. I’d break my book spine backward and begin, shakily at first, and then slowly my voice would give way to the words, which flowed sure and true, ready at last to tell their story to someone new.