Rumors of the short story’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Only an appearance by Mark Twain himself could have capped an evening of well-crafted, funny narratives this past weekend at Selected Shorts, an annual series that pairs actors with classic and modern short stories.
Turns out, the story doesn’t need a new literary agent—just a compelling voice.
The program delivered great performances by Nate Corddry, who read Juan Martinez’s “Customer Service at the Karaoke don Quixote,” and Heather Goldenhersh, who performed “A Bunch of Broccoli on the Third Shelf” by Lara Vapnyar, among other tales. Tim Curry spellbound the audience with his reading of “Ziggurat” by author Stephen O’Connor—who was also in attendance.
There were no pyrotechnics. No fog machines or light shows prepared for intermission. Instead, Selected Shorts stuck to engaging the audience with a good story and a strong voice.
Isaiah Sheffer, director of Symphony Space, which produces Selected Shorts, guided the weekend of 10 readings and orchestrated what he termed an “aerobic interactive” intermission. He sang lines from the Great American Songbook and invited the audience to finish them. (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard an auditorium of strangers sing “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” on cue.)
What makes Selected Shorts especially interesting is the artistic intersection of author and actor. The wordsmith takes a story in one direction, and the performer can add to it or take it on an altogether different route. The writer relinquishes some authorship in the exchange.
Case in point: Sheffer rests his right hand above his knee as he relaxes on the stool. Taking his eyes off the page, as if having memorized much of T.C. Boyle’s story “Rapture of the Deep,” he recites a passage while staring out into the audience.
His words pierce the hall: “… Macaroni and cheese!”
There’s no telling what Boyle, sitting in the audience, had in mind. And that’s the point.