Short Stories by Jerre Dye at TheatreSouth 

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Short Stories, presented by Voices of the South, is exactly what it says. It's a collection of brief, meditative narratives about loss: loss of parents, loss of youth, loss of freedom, loss of identity, loss of love, loss of lifestyle, loss of control, loss of innocence, and loss of Jesus. Many hushed tones and reverent, sweetly held silences too. Also adjectives. There are lots of glittering, garish, alluring, stinky, and provocative adjectives, languidly and liberally scattered near adverbs and such. That Dye kid can write, but somebody needs to intervene regarding the ornamentals. It doesn't make his prose richer or more musical, it only makes it more. And by more, in this case, I mean less than it might be. Less confident. Less clear. Less to the heart of the matter.

"Uber" is a story performed by Todd Berry, about two men telling stories. One is an oversharing driver with roots in the Far East. The other is a distant passenger who doesn't know he's in powerful need of blessing. "Uber" is best when it's in the moment, letting the audience decide what these internal and external dialogues mean as guarded and gregarious strangers clash, connect, and talk about death in their families. The piece ruminates too much on itself. Most all of these stories do. But "Uber" is effective in contextualizing both the evening and the mission of a theater company deeply committed to the singularity-like power of stories to connect across cultures, generations, dimensions, time, space, and maybe even the void of death.

"Jesus and Mrs. Stone" is where Dye really unpacks his adjectives. But let's face it, if you're not hooked by the faintly New Age-ish inner-child dance that opens this story, you're probably dead inside. The opening is all about that thing kids once called "the feels" (til their parents co-opted it, they outgrew it, and life went on). In a sequence worthy of a Super Bowl commercial, a grown man, played by David Couter, connects with his old Sony Walkman cassette player and a song that unlocks his younger self (Reece Berry) and everything that mattered to him in the 1980s. The song is the Go-Go's first hit "Our Lips Are Sealed." What mattered was a fading free spirit named Ms. Stone, perfectly played by Anne Marie Caskey. Like "Uber," it turns in on itself instead of resolving. It is, in some regards, one of Dye's richest portraits wrapped in some of his thinnest writing. A little less wonderous wonderousness and a little more wonder would tighten things right up.

"Two or More" is the treat of the evening. I'd be happy to spend an entire night in the theater watching Steve Swift and Cecelia Wingate sitting on their imaginary porch going back and forth. It starts slow and stays that way, an excellent lesson for all those directors out there suffering under the illusion that broad farce is fitful and frenetic and works best when executed at breakneck speeds.

"Two or More" is a direct ancestor of a classic comedy routine most closely associated with hayseed comedian Archie Campbell of Hee Haw fame. Though it was usually scripted, "That's Good/That's Bad" functions like a theater game where a story is told in which all the things that sound good turn out bad and vice versa. In this case Swift and Wingate talk about the fate of a young hell-raiser who grew into an adult hell-raiser who found a good woman who led him to Jesus so he could become a hell-raiser for Jesus, before he fell off the wagon and lost Jesus but not the woman or the hell-raising. And so on. It's classic front porch comedy with more substance than it lets on. Pitch perfect front to back.

Short Stories closes with a piece called "Do You Love Me," a boy's memory of his mother. Like most of the pieces up for consideration in this collection, it loses its way a bit while working through circumstances most viewers will respond to emotionally. That's not necessarily a bad thing. And Couter and Alice Berry are so good together you'll want to call your mama after curtain call.

This is a pretty show in sentiment and style. It's also some of the greenest writing we've seen from TheatreSouth's most celebrated voice. Well, at least since the last time the company staged a collection of Dye's shorter works. That collection eventually spawned the excellent new play Distance. I'm really looking forward to seeing what mature things may grow from this latest seed batch.

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