When Tim O’Brien’s short story collection about Vietnam “The Things They Carried” appeared in 1990, it was the end of a journey that started with select stories being printed in Esquire and its title work being selected for the 1987 anthology of Best American Short Stories. Another journey started afterwards. It went on to sell more than 2 million copies worldwide; nearly won a Pulitzer; and found its way onto the reading list of high schools across the country. It’s considered one of the best works of Vietnam-war fiction out there. So it was only a matter of time that our Public Library would choose it for their annual “Santa Barbara Reads” program. The surprise is that they have now teamed up with Speaking of Stories to turn some of their stories into a special event this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
It wasn’t originally a part of Maggie Mixsell’s “Speaking of” series when they announced this season. But the library reached out to Ms. Mixsell’s business partner, Center Stage Theater’s Teri Ball, and it sounded like a good match. Ms. Mixsell, having put on the series for half of the two-decades-long run, knows a good short story when she reads one.
“The title story is very well written,” Ms. Mixsell says. “The other stories that follow are compelling … Any story that is well written is something that we can relate to. When you do this for 10 years, you realize that is the key.”
The story will be read by “Speaking-of” regular, Dan Gunther, in a slightly cut version. (It’s the longest of the stories in the collection.) A much shorter, following story, “Stockings,” about a soldier who tied his girlfriend’s stockings around his neck for good luck, will be read by actor and UCSB theater director, Irwin Appel.
“There are technical skills common to both acting in a play and reading,” Mr. Appel says. “But Speaking of Stories has that added demand of performing several characters. The actors have to make that come alive, and to make that interesting.”
Mr. Appel will also read from a more modern book, “Generation Kill,” by Evan Wright, based on his experiences covering the second Iraq war for Rolling Stone. There are similarities that every soldier faces, but Ms. Mixsell chose the excerpt to focus on the differences.
“We’re sending people who are politically different to war,” Ms. Mixsell says. “Maybe not personalities, but politically different to those who we sent off in Vietnam.”
After Mr. Appel, Ann Guynn will read “Tips For A Smooth Transition” by Siobhan Fallon, a short story that compares the army’s manual for loved ones dealing with returning soldiers to actual and sometime horrible experiences.
“I always like a female voice in the show if I can,” says Ms. Mixsell, as an aside.
The evening ends with two stories from Ventura-based writer Raymond Morua, a veteran of the second Iraq war turned short-story writer. Ms. Mixsell was alerted to his work by a friend, and has called in a current SBCC student from one of Ms. Mixsell’s acting classes, Fernando James Saldana, Jr. to read “Cigar Smoke” and “The Facade of Antiquity” to finish the show. Ms. Mixsell loves the opportunity, she says, to have someone of the same age as the characters read the work, which doesn’t always happen. Mr. Saldana fits that role.
“Speaking of Stories has always been really good at finding material that is innately both literary and theatrical, simultaneously,” Mr. Appel says. “There’s a real art to it. I admire Maggie for this, for choosing stories with reading out loud in mind. She seems to have a gut instinct for what works in this context. And that’s the reason that every time I come away from doing one of these, I always think ‘this was a great event.'”
Speaking of Stories: ‘The Things They Carried’
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo Mall
Cost: $25/$15 student/military
Information: 963-0408, www.speakingofstories.org