BWW Review: An Evening with David Sedaris
David Sedaris: Personal, Profound, and Punny
Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 7:30 pm; Presented by Innovation Arts & Entertainment at Hanover Theatre, 2 Southbridge Street, Worcester, MA; Box Office 877-571-SHOW (7469) or firstname.lastname@example.org
David Sedaris says that for a long time he had difficulty calling himself a writer. When he had to list his occupation on the entry card for a foreign country, he filled in "typist." Once he had a couple of books published, he changed it to "author," but finally took ownership of "writer" when he made it into the pages of The New Yorker magazine. Fittingly, the highlight of his appearance at the Hanover Theatre in Worcester last night was his reading of his most recent essay in the venerable publication (www.thenewyorker.com/magazine).
"Now We Are Five" talks about the suicide of his younger sister Tiffany in late May of this year, in the context of Sedaris family trips to a rented beach house off the coast of North Carolina. He describes what it was like to go to Emerald Isle for a week every summer as children, the six of them jockeying to get the best room in the cottage. Despite being among the three eldest, he was relegated to the ground level "maid's room." This year, David arranged for the rental and, therefore, was able to choose the best room with an ocean view. His descriptive prose helps us to imagine what it was like when Mom and Dad ruled the roost and Lisa, Gretchen, David, Amy, Tiffany, and Paul spent their time swimming or tanning on the beach.
Their childhood reminiscences formed the foundation of this year's vacation, so soon after Tiffany's death in Somerville, Massachusetts. The other five siblings and their 90-year old father (their mother passed away in 1991) traded stories about her, looked at family photos, and wondered that the life of a 49-year old woman could be contained in two boxes. The truth is that none of them knew her very well because she had pulled away from the family and rarely returned. David acknowledged that he and Tiffany hadn't spoken in eight years after their last fight, although he would occasionally get news about her from his father or Lisa. Still, he struggles to understand why she would want out of the family so badly that she would take her own life. In his telling of this deeply personal story, David does what he does best, blending the profundity of life with sardonic wit that elicits both a tear and a laugh.
The writer opened the evening with "An English Lesson" which dissects oft-used phrases he encounters in his travels. For example, when arriving at a hotel, the clerk may ask about his flight, but Sedaris betrays his outlook on life when he asserts that there are only two kinds of flights: the ones on which you die, and the ones you don't. He does a riff on a cashier in a coffee shop who asks if he needs a pastry to go with his beverage and his retort, "I wasn't too shy to order the coffee, why wouldn't I order a bear claw?" Or the newsstand attendant in the airport who asks if you need a bottle of water to go with your newspaper, as if the two are inseparable. And, of course, the overuse of the word awesome comes in for some repetitive ribbing, all of it being funnier because of his skillful word play.
Sedaris is near the start of a 40-city tour to promote his latest book Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, published in April by Little, Brown and Company. It consists mainly of essays, but also has six brief monologues that he wrote for the express purpose of being delivered by teenagers in "Forensics" (a cross between speech and debate) competitions. He read "Think Differenter," about irritating expressions Americans tend to overuse, such as "I'll never forget the time..." and details a litany of things and events that we may or may not remember as life goes on, managing to toss in a tiny jab at allowing the mentally ill to own guns.
One of my favorite segments of any Sedaris appearance is when he reads random selections from his diary and he did not disappoint on this night. Whether sharing his stories from touring in Italy in April, 2008, or riding a crowded train to London in August, 2013, his delivery is natural and playful and he seems as tickled by his experiences as is his large, mixed demographic audience. Even as he appears to be enjoying himself, he has a pencil at the ready to make edit marks on the page and sometimes re-reads a line that doesn't come out just right, but we don't mind.