True Lies

Star Wars Disco has come up in conversation (online and in person) twice in the past week. For those of you who don’t know what Star Wars Disco is, it is exactly what it says it is: a disco remix of John Williams’ score by Meco. It is that moment in time when two 70s juggernauts had a drunken, pop-culture, one-night stand. When something becomes too trendy for its own good. (Click here to get your groove on.) It’s the day your mom borrows your Reeboks and slouch socks to wear with her new Champion sweatshirt, or your great uncle’s new girlfriend friends you on Facebook.MecoSW

For anyone who is interested in, reads, writes, otherwise thinks about non-fiction, the debate over what is true, what is fact, what is fiction, is inescapable.  For me, the conversation is a little bit like Star Wars Disco. The debate itself is trendy to the point of absurdity. I’ve heard super-smart people argue, with raised voices, about “my truth” and “your truth” and “universal truth.” I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying the debate isn’t important. I’m just saying that I’m kinda over the whole thing. I mean, seriously folks, even Miller Lite has moved on because tastes great and less filling can peacefully coexist. (But watch this anyway and love it.)

The MothEnter The Moth, a movement dedicated to the power and, yes, truth, of storytelling. I am so, so new to The Moth, but, by sheer stroke of luck, got invited to the Live at the New York Public Library event Illuminating The Night: Stories and Conversation with The Moth. The event included some Moth stories, but also a discussion about story itself. Catherine Burns, Moth’s Artistic Director explained that they “don’t have The New Yorker’s fact checking department” but that all of The Moth stories told in events around the world, on their podcast, and on NPR, are “true” for the storyteller. Andrew Solomon, who not only told a fantastic story about Diana Vreeland and the (in)famous Avedon portrait of Nureyev for Vogue, but also participated in the panel discussion, was adamant that the stories and their telling are bigger and more powerful than being concerned about truth and lies. “Numbers and statistics” he said are facts, but it takes people to tell the stories. The Moth connects people with stories and storytellers and, in doing so, moves towards that “universal truth” that so many get hung up on in the non-fiction/fiction debate.

That’s where the magic lives — in between the what and the how and the who. It lives in the why? and the so what? the what’s next? And I think that magic can be in fiction and non-fiction and everywhere in between.

So, let’s move on. Let’s talk about something else. How about you tell me a story?

Entry Point

Just like everything else, the literary world has its own language. Its own set of buzzwords. I find myself talking about how I “approached the work” or was “intrigued by the piece” or “engaged by the narrative” where before I might have said something boring and mundane like, “I read this book. I really enjoyed it. Let’s get some fro-yo.”

One of my current favorites is “entry point.” As in, “The sad clown really gave me an entry point to the narrative.” Or “I never found an entry point that allowed me to participate in the deeper meaning of the grilled cheese sandwich.” As far as I can tell, which, granted, isn’t all that far, entry point is the key to the kingdom, the secret handshake that draws the reader onto common ground with the writer. It is important, critical even, but the phrase makes me giggle (almost) every time I hear it.

streetcarSo imagine my surprise when I was thinking about my trip to Yale this weekend to see A Streetcar Named Desire and the phrase popped into my head along with a snapshot of Joe Manganiello. Yes, that Joe Manganiello. Alcide Herveaux on True Blood. Big Dick Richie in Magic Mike. Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Yep. You heard me right.

Joe Manganiello was my entry point into Yale Rep’s production of the Tennessee Williams classic. I wouldn’t have made the trek up I-95 to see just any old Stanley. Maybe not even Brando’s ghost. And I would have been worse off for not doing so.

Streetcar has always made me inordinately sad. I think it is because Blanche DuBois is not a stranger to me. Coming from the South, she’s all too familiar. I know and have known lots of people, men and women, who expend copious amounts of energy maintaining that perfect sheen on their otherwise imperfect lives. Often they, like Blanche, are broken and sad, but willing to put on genteel airs like a seersucker suit or a wide-brimmed straw hat. The sadness and insecurity are softened by a comforting drawl and a glass of cold sweet-tea. The darkest memories are packed away in the attic with the Green Stamps china and the dusty old Coca Cola bottles.

René Augesen is Blanche in New Haven. She wears Blanche as seemingly easily as the silky, red robe she slips into after another of Blanche’s long, hot baths. She is haunted and harried. Augesen, the actor, disappears into the New Orleans haze the instant Blanche says, “They told me to take a streetcar named Desire…” She is, in the overblown language of Playbill, a tour de force. A tour de force that I would never have seen if it hadn’t been for Big Dick Richie. (Seriously, Magic Mike, people.)

So, thanks, Joe Manganiello for being Stanley Kowalski. Thanks, René Augesen for being Blanche DuBois. And especially, thank you, Tennessee Williams for breaking my heart in that old, familiar way. Who knows? I might even make in down to the Booth Theater to see Mr. Spock in The Glass Menagerie.