REVIEW: An Evening with David Sedaris (Steppenwolf)

| June 9, 2010

An evening well spent


Steppenwolf Theatre presents
An Evening With David Sedaris
at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted
through June 13th  | 
more info
tickets: currently sold out, but call 312-335-1650 for updates

I have read a couple of David Sedaris books over the years and I wasn’t sure what to expect of an evening with the author himself. The excitement in the lobby of the Steppenwolf Theatre was muted and yet palpable. This was an NPR kind of crowd and that was cool with me. Still, as a person who has found myself laughing davidsedaris150x200uncontrollably on the “L’ while reading “Naked”, I wondered how Mr. Sedaris would pull off such a feat as being hysterically funny in person.

He entered the stage without a lot of fanfare carrying a binder and what turned out to be a thrift store painting of Parisian ragamuffins. Sedaris got right down to business reading from his new book titled “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary” (with illustrations by Ian Falconer) due in fall 2010. He called them his take on the fable and indeed the two that he told had a moral.

Mr. Sedaris tells the first fable from the point of view of a curious owl that asks questions of the more interesting prey. This owl is on a quest to be more than just his appetites and drive to hunt. If the prey has an interesting story, the owl releases it only to watch his parasitic (and hilariously stupid) family show up to eat the poor creatures anyway. The tales are told in a matter of fact style that is both absurd and surreal. I have yet to shake the image of the owl’s passive aggressive mother arriving as he is about to snack on an unfortunate rabbit.

He shared another fable of a bully rabbit based on an incident with airport security that was also dark and visceral. I don’t know of many people who can make decomposition and carrion quite so funny. He shared that the fables would also be released in audio format and that the incomparable Elaine Stritch would read the bully rabbit story.

Good storytellers reveal the world more than tell the listener or reader something new. There are a multitude of facts on this planet but Sedaris crafts the story behind them and puts a kaleidoscope spin on even scientific facts. As part of the owl fable, there is something revealed about leeches and hippos that could have been a gross out moment. I took away a new attitude about leeches and a new respect for gerbils.

Sedaris finished the evening with excerpts from his diary that revealed more of how his process works and then opened the floor for questions. I will admit to anxiety over the Q&A part of the evening. There is always some yahoo who wants to have the deepest question to prove that they “get” the subject matter and it usually opens the gates of pandering pseudo-intellectual hell. Thank the Universe that was not the case this evening. There were good and respectful questions, and Mr. Sedaris was most accommodating. He spoke of what he is currently reading and who his inspiration was for live performance (Whoopi Goldberg). He also bought a lovely parting gift in the aforementioned Parisian ragamuffins painting. It was such an endearing moment when he asked if anyone collected thrift shop paintings and then gave it to the one person who admitted such a hobby. He also brings books and other knick-knacks to give away on occasion. It is a lovely to see beyond the surface of the absurdities of life. I recalled our velvet rendition of “Lady and the Tramp” in my childhood living room and wondered what happened to it.

Mr. Sedaris travels quite a bit for his work and has some delightful tales of time spent on planes and in airports. I would say that you should take care with your attire should he be around. Above all do not wear ethnically challenging hair or colloquialisms on your tee shirt. You will find yourself in a story and deservedly mocked.

An Evening with David Sedaris is playing at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre through June 13th 2010. Try your best to score a ticket through or call 312-335-1650. The show that I saw was sold out and there were hopeful people willing to wait on standby. It is worth the ticket and I look forward to the book both written and in audio form. Due to David Sedaris, a trip to the zoo is forever changed and I will be checking out the hippopotamus in a whole new way.

Rating: ★★★

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Category: 2010 Reviews, K.D. Hopkins, Steppenwolf

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