By Tania Fisher
Powerful live and unscripted storytelling returned to Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center on October 12, bringing with it a slew of devoted fans of the Moth Mainstage Shows, and its Peabody Award-winning Moth Radio Hour and podcast.
Since its inception in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of stories that are told live and without notes. What began as an idea by founder and novelist George Dawes Green to somehow recreate the sultry summer evenings he experienced in his native Georgia, when moths were attracted to the light on the porch where he and his friends would gather to share spellbinding tales with one another.
And since then, the audiences too, behave like moths to a light bulb; basking in the warmth and glow of this very human experience. The story tellers come from all walks of life and from every background imaginable. Each show is given a theme to work within and draw upon. The five inspiring storytellers of the evening included Kathleen Turner, Jeremy Jennings, Samuel James, Sarfraz Manzoor, and Esther McManus, and were given the theme of “Tug of War” – elaborated to answering the question, “When were you pulled in the wrong direction?” The evening was hosted by the incredibly entertaining and very likeable Tara Clancy, and musical interludes were provided by the exceedingly gifted violinist Mazz Swift.
Noted chef and baker, Esther McManus who, through a strong French accent explained how she grew up in Marrakesh, Morocco, with a Rabbi/farmer father and a mother who took her own child’s blanket to keep the dough for bread warm. McManus spoke in eloquent terms describing her subsequent life-long passion that ensued to see her become a sought after master baker. Her personal tug of war was at the precipice of a career defining moment when she received a call from Julia Childs inviting her to cook croissants on her TV show.
Jeremy Jennings was humbling to watch and listen to as the inexperienced public speaker bravely stood before us often choking back tears, describing his role in the Californian Army National Guard and experiences in detainee operations. Trained to be wary of the tricks and manipulative ways of the detainees on his watch, he described with great emotion the life changing tug of war moment he faced when he stopped a detainee about to commit suicide in his cell, and the risky against-all-rules behavior he engaged in by making himself vulnerable and risking the chance that this person was about to kill him.
British journalist, author, and broadcaster, Sarfraz Manzoor grew up in 1980’s Luton, England in a working class British Pakistani Muslim family and was actively taught to not believe in love and to not engage in affection. Thank goodness for the music of Lionel Ritchie and Bruce Springsteen who provided a new narrative for Manzoor to align himself with to eventually find his one true love. His tug of war between his family’s non-acceptance of his choices and the pull towards a love filled relationship that he was always taught was wrong, was both entertaining and heartwarming.
Of course, not all the stories had happy endings. A tug of war between a loving memory of a grandparent and the hurtful revelation in later years had African-American journalist and columnist Samuel James sharing a compelling tale. James was an apt story teller stringing us along for what we thought was a touching and loving memoir about his relationship with his grandmother and his adoration of the TV show Dukes of Hazzard. Later he revealed that his grandmother was white and that she objected so strongly to her white daughter marrying a black man, that she engaged in passive-aggressive behavior and manipulated her grandchild in order to agitate and constantly remind her black son-in-law that he was not accepted.
Multi award winning, Oscar nominee actress Kathleen Turner was certainly the draw-card in terms of bringing a high profile celebrity to the mix, but was unfortunately a disappointing final storyteller of the evening. Instead of sharing a personal, intimate or even insightful memoir involving a “tug of war” experience or being “pulled in the wrong direction,” Turner regaled a very short story filled with anecdotal references to a privileged life, and primarily about a pigeon-infested window box in the room of her assistant in her flat in England. Although an amusing tale and delivered with panache and spot-on British accents, the theme was nowhere to be found, which unfortunately ended the evening on a sour note and the audience feeling a little short changed.
However, thankfully the marvelous host Tara Clancy quickly brought us back to joy proving once again that the unique and spectacular emotional ride through true story telling is always compelling, thought provoking, and just downright powerful every time on The Moth Mainstage.
Photos: Jason Falchook for The Moth
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center
Run Time: 2 hours (with 15 minute interval)