The Currency of a Story Apr 14, 2018
by Elissa Favero
A response to Patti & The Kid by Frank Boyd and Libby King (Apr 12-15, 2018)
Earlier this week, the writer Leslie Jamison came to Seattle to read from and speak about her new book, The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath. A recovering alcoholic, Jamison talked about the bravado of sitting around telling stories in her MFA program, each budding writer trying to outperform the last. Years later, she would sit in another circle of people. These folks met in church basements and began their stories with “Hi, my name is ______, and I’m an alcoholic.” Both groups were telling stories, but each had a different kind of currency. In the first group, innovative or original, stirring language were ways to stand out. Each writer wanted their story to be the best. Among the second group, many of the stories sounded similar. They were about the yearning and selfishness of the alcoholic. They were about the forever work of being in recovery. These weren’t stories as means to be recognized as the best. They were what these folks needed, what Jamison herself needed and needs, to stay sober.
I thought a lot about the currency of stories in Frank Boyd & Libby King: Patti & the Kid. The genre of the story is easily recognizable. Piped music recalling one of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns or The Sting plays as you take your seat. Once the show begins, the scene is desolate: carpet squares piled with the humble worldly possessions of the two main characters — flashlights for investigating, mops for scooting around beyond the carpets via wheeled platforms, a CD player playing everything from Dolly Parton to commentary from a Federer-Nadal tennis match, a spray bottle, a collection of keyboards, a horse calendar with all the days already crossed off, a coffeemaker, and Nerf guns. There’s the shifting light of day and in the background a lone and languishing tree. Here, indeed, is a country of the mind made real and alive by the actions taken by our two heroes, the eponymous Patti and The Kid: organizing the gear, self-care and reflection, an aerobics workout, shooting practice. This is world-building animated by what seems like a routine these two have been doing forever.
And then a third character appears on the scene and breaks apart this tidy schedule. This young girl asks our heroes about their lives. They speak for the first time in long monologues, mop handles becoming microphones. They tell stories about addiction and loss and heartbreak, remembering what had come before and why, perhaps, it had been necessary to build this world and its strange and — at least from the outside looking in — often funny comforts of routine. Some things they seem not to be able to speak aloud yet. They tell jokes too. And they ask to hear jokes from the audience as well. Here we are, telling each other stories. This young girl is beginning to make porous the boundaries of Patti and The Kid’s tightly guarded world.
At the end of the performance, the world seems to break apart even further. Patti walks beyond her carpet square to test the ground beyond. The Kid tends to his lone tree and marks its growth. Perhaps each is ready to shed some of the mythology, some of routine they have built for themselves. Maybe they’re ready to make new stories for themselves. Then young girl returns and sets her lantern down as if at a campfire, that setting so ripe for storytelling. She gives to the audience cards with questions she answers. She is now both inside and outside the world of Patti & the Kid. The future, actress Maya Flory-Barnes Salas speculates, will look similar as she gets older: more shows and singing and dancing. She demonstrates with the charming enthusiasm only a kid can have. As for America’s future, she can’t say.
She is making up her own story as she goes along. So are we all.
Elissa Favero teaches critical and contextual studies at Cornish College of the Arts and writes essays about art, architecture, and landscape.
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