Walkerton Cats on Broadway

Yesterday my mom and I went to Symphony Space in New York. Merritt Wever, who plays Zoey Barkow on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, read my new story, “Havahart,” during a special edition of Selected Shorts hosted by Roz Chast. The theme of the night was What I Hate from A-Z (inspired by Ms. Chast’s new book), and my story featured feral cats–and rabies. We decided we had to be there to see the performance.

We took the train. It was spacious and quiet. My mom tried playing Zip-It (a Bananagrams-type game), but didn’t get the part about the words connecting, or the prohibition of proper nouns:

That’s okay.

After checking in to our hotel, we went to MoMA, saw the Diego Rivera exhibit (wonderful), and wandered around for a bit. One thing I always think when I’m there is that Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series, which is together on one of the painting floors, should not be split up (the other half of the 60-painting series is in D.C., in the Phillips Collection).

Of course we were really early for the performance, uptown at Symphony Space on Broadway. People in my family (my Boggs family, that is) are great to travel with if you’re worried about being late because we always try to outdo each other about how early we should leave.

It gave us time to check out the arriving crowd, though. I was nervous about the story, which I wrote specifically to be read aloud for Selected Shorts and had only shared with Richard and my mom. Were these people who would appreciate stories about loneliness and feral cats? ¬†They certainly had interesting eyewear and footwear (my mom was sure she’d spotted Roz Chast in a woman wearing a tremendous brown coat and striped socks and glittery eyeglasses, but I willed her not to say anything and it worked; it was not her). I think many of them had season tickets; everyone looked as happy to be there as we were.

My nervousness disappeared as soon as Merritt Wever began reading my story. She was fantastic–perfect pacing and expression and tone. I wish I could take her along with me to all my readings–sort of like Kathryn Stockett and Octavia Spencer, except without the weird racial overtones.

The rest of the actors were amazing, too, and Roz Chast killed it (of course). Anne Meara read Shirley Jackson’s creepy and darkly funny “The Witch;” Jerry Stiller read Bruce Jay Friedman’s terrifically depressing “Wonderful Golden Rule Days,” and Stephen Lang read Tom Chiarella’s “Berard’s Rapture”–a long story, which can be difficult to read well, but I think we felt by the end that we’d seen a film.

The audience was great: warm and responsive. I mentioned this quality about Sewanee’s participants, and also about the Frank O’Connor International Short Story festival, I think. Audiences–readers, listeners–add so much to performances, and they’re out there, people who are passionate about art and literature, who want to hear something new. They give something to writers, too–encouragement, pleasure, eagerness to write something new. I appreciate Selected Shorts’s commitment to the short story–it’s a great experience to sit back and listen to someone read you a whole story, which honestly is rare at book signings and readings. At so many author readings, the authors apologize for anything over twenty minutes, like they’re afraid of taking up people’s football-watching time.

Sometime in the fall you should be able to listen to the evening on PRI or download it as a podcast. I’ll post a link then, but in the meantime there are many great Selected Shorts performances to download here.

(pictured above: Remy Ma, one of the inspirations behind “Havahart”; pictured below: my mom and me after the performance)

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