Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, PST!

Portland Story Theater continues to overdeliver with a terrific troupe of guest storytellers (this time it's Penny Walter returning) and core tellers Lynne Duddy and Lawrence Howard with My Favorite Pair, the opening show of their 2008-09 season. If the gloom of current affairs has you longing for an uplifting night out, look no further than PST's current show.

Opening again for PST is The Tuesday Group, which continues to defy description. Are they singers? dancers? poets? comedians? They describe themselves as "improv," so I'll go with it. They pose and sway in a quirky Cupid's tale of unlikely love and its rocky course as a couple of meddlers chart their course by tangling up a couple of chairs. (Yes, I know. It's weird. It works.)

Lynne Duddy tells about crossing the public/Catholic school divide with the help of a friend, and when that friend disappears, Lynne persists in unraveling the mystery. For me, this was one of those shining moments of story, where a tiny detail -- almost an afterthought -- provides an axis of emotional resonance that rings long after the story's over. It's one of those tales that's personal, universal, and asserts that yes, all the vast forces of the world are indeed conspiring to comfort and sustain us. Lynne's second story, about the peripatetic and sometimes scary life of a young single mom, had a similar mixture of uncertainty and stability. (It also contained one of those odd hallucinations that occasionally pop up in storytelling trances, where I saw something that definitely wasn't there.)

I never suspected Lawrence Howard of being a nerd. I'd never picked up on that facet of him, especially not in his previous stories of camping, fishing, and open-road adventures. (For me, those things are the antithesis of being a nerd.) But no, school cliques identified him as I could not. I laughed as he confessed the parental conspiracy that contributed to his nerdiness (nerdentity?), and I even laughed as he reached that zenith of bully-targeted terror that had me horrified beneath my giggles. (It's really hard for me to listen to stories of school taunting and not have flashbacks.) His second story focused on his romance with the martial arts. I would have doubted the choice in the hands of a lesser talent, but Lawrence has a singular voice and obstinant refusal to set foot into cliched territory.

When I first heard Penny Walter at her last appearance with PST, she did what I thought was impossible: She made me care about athletes. This time around, her stories were just as far removed from my own experiences (how could anyone not like standardized tests?) and just as astonishing. Her tale of a scheming younger self with a roller-skate fetish made me think that even Winston Churchhill -- "Never, never give in!" -- might have quailed before her. She also closes the evening with a story that reminded me of G.B. Shaw's warning that there are two great tragedies in life: Not to get your heart's desire, and to get it. Penny describes a dream come true, the unforeseen consequences, and how a dream moment in a sweat lodge carried the guidance she needed to turn things around.

The show runs another two weekends (Fri and Sat through Nov 8), with special Halloween pricing (come as a pair for $20 for two tickets on 10/31 and 11/1) and a prize giveaway. (Go to their Web site and sign up for their newsletter to learn about cool stuff like this!) Plenty of opportunities to see them again. And if you've never seen them, it's about time you do.

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