A Hilarious Quartet – Speaking of Stories First 2013 show is all Laughs

Sometimes you have to just sit back and laugh. Speaking of Stories does, at least once a year, with its “Nothing But Laughs” evening this Sunday and Monday, which presents four short stories designed to make you ell-oh-ell, as the kids say. Artistic director Maggie Mixsell has curated this show of four comic stories from Somerset Maugham, Kurt Vonnegut, Elizabeth Berg, and Jenny Allen along a very easy criteria.

“I have to at least chuckle,” she says.

From Ms. Mixsell chuckling to a whole theater laughing relies on her direction of four actors, some regulars, some fresh faces from her “Stories” workshop. The line-up includes Nicholas Woolf reading “Three Fat Women of Antibes” by Somerset Maugham, Rudy Willrich reading “Confido” by Kurt Vonnegut, Leslie Story reading “Returns and Exchanges” by Elizabeth Berg, and E. Bonnie Lewis reading “Awake” by Jenny Allen.

“I find comedy material harder to find,” she says. “I can usually find one good laughable story whatever the theme, but to find four to six for one evening takes me longer for some reason.”

E. Bonnie Lewis, of DramaDogs and previous “Speaking” engagements, takes on Jenny Allen’s “Awake,” a story brought to Ms. Mixsell by a workshop student after seeing it in the New Yorker, still one of the best places to find comedic short stories. (Ms. Mixsell’s other favorite: The Paris Review).

“Returns and Exchanges” is about a middle-age woman, “But about the mistakes we make when we are pretending we are not middle age,” Ms. Mixsell says. The woman in question starts a dating service for those over 50, and her first client is the first love of her life who dumped her decades ago. Leslie Story, who reads, will be familiar to SBCC Theater-goers from her roles in “August: Osage County” and “Through the Fire.”

Rudy Willrich will be reading the posthumous story by Mr. Vonnegut. It’s not as edgy as other works from the experimental humorist, but Mr. Willrich loved it so much that when he wasn’t available for an earlier planned reading, he asked Ms. Mixsell to save it for him, instead of including it in the all-Vonnegut evening from 2008. Mr. Willrich is one of “Speaking” ‘s longest-running performers, taking part since Karin delaPena started the series, about two decades ago.

Which leaves Nicholas Woolf, who is one of Ms. Mixsell’s newest discoveries. In his first appearance at “Speaking of Stories,” he reads the light comic short story of Somerset Maugham.

Mr. Woolf, who works as a research consultant in town, has a long interest and involvement in theater, from his days back in his native England (where Maugham was a favorite) to work in Ohio and his current interest in improv. He’s the one who introduced Ms. Mixsell to Maugham’s story of three ladies playing bridge, and the one with the luck and drive to wind up on stage this week.

“I used to think my happiest time was when I was onstage performing,” he says. “But I discovered that my absolute favorite time was when I was onstage reading … Time passes unbelievably quickly. I can’t believe that 25 minutes have passed. You can’t compare it to anything else.”

Although the weeding-out process takes time and causes stress, as Ms. Mixsell chose from 15 stories to get to these four, she keeps the rest on the side. “If it’s a maybe story I keep it in italics in my spreadsheet,” she says. “And I save all those italics for future years.”

“There’s a whole breadth of comedy writers (I like ) from Thurber to the present day,” she says, although she includes David Sedaris and recently passed David Rakoff as her current favorites. “There can be a lot of comedy in a bittersweet story as well. As they say, if you can’t laugh at yourself … ”

Speaking of Stories ‘Nothing But Laughs’
When: 2 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. Mon.
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo
Cost: $25/$15
Information: 963-0408 or www.centerstagetheater.org/

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