From left,Tom Hinshawwill read David Rakoff's"ln New England Everyone Calls You Dave," executive director Maggie Mixsell and Robert Lesser, who will read Paul Rudnick's"Good Enough to Eat
From left,Tom Hinshawwill read David Rakoff’s”ln New England Everyone Calls You Dave,” executive director Maggie Mixsell and Robert Lesser, who will read Paul Rudnick’s”Good Enough to Eat

Speaking of Stories kicks off 2014, and its 20th season, with “Nothing but Laughs,” its annual show of humorous tales. Maybe it’s a sign that the funniest comedy writers now work in the non-fiction essay format, or maybe it’s just pure coincidence, but the line-up for the two shows this Sunday and Monday at Center Stage Theater is all in the hilarious-but-true tradition.

The line-up for Sunday and Monday feature five Speaking of … regulars, all five of whom are also adept at comedy. Katie Thatcher will read Sloane Crosley’s childhood tale, “The Pony Problem;” Meredith McMinn will read Nora Ephron’s aging-ritual tale, “I Feel Bad About My Neck;” Devin Scott — the youngest of the performers — will read Michael Thomas Ford’s confessional, “The F Word;” Tom Hinshaw will take on David Rakoff’s mountain climbing story, “In New England Everyone Calls You Dave;” and Robert Lesser caps things off with Paul Rudnick’s sugar-holic tale, “Good Enough to Eat.” Executive director, Maggie Mixsell has made sure each performer really matches the personality of the writer. Well, as closely as possible.

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 Dan Gunther,"Speaking-of"regular,will read the title story,"The Things They Carried." Brad Spaulding photos

Dan Gunther,”Speaking-of”regular,will read the title story,”The Things They Carried.”
Brad Spaulding photos

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.

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Speaking of T.C. Boyle – The successful writer takes his turn at Speaking of Stories

Can there be a fan of Speaking of Stories, a 14-year spoken word mainstay of Santa Barbara entertainment calendars, who isn’t a fan of T.C. Boyle? Since its earliest days, the short stories of our literary resident have been a constant, first as material read by actors, then read by the author himself. Actor Charles De L’Arbe reads Boyle’s story “My Pain Is Worse Than Your Pain” on Sunday, while Boyle appears Monday night to read his story “The Lie.”

Many contemporary authors read their stories out loud, either over the radio (NPR is a major pitstop) or as part of a book tour. But “Speaking of Stories,” directed by Maggie Mixsell, allows its readers a performance space.

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Lost in memories in The Lady and the Clarinet

Michael Cristofer’s play “The Lady and the Clarinet” is less a straightforward romantic comedy and more like a mysterious chocolate candy. The outside is sweet, but the inside is bitter the more you chew — and by the end you’re not sure if the outside was really chocolate to start with.

Mr. Cristofer earned a Pulitzer Prize for his earlier play, 1977’s “The Shadow Box.”

“The Lady and the Clarinet” dates from 1984, and was at one point an off-Broadway hit for Stockard Channing. Director Maggie Mixsell has resurrected the play and brought it to Santa Barbara City College’s Jurkowitz Theater for a three-week run, where it becomes a star vehicle for its leading lady, Katie Thatcher.

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