Taboo Tales at Zephyr Theatre: Bringing True Confessions to the Stage
If revealing something confidential about yourself, and then hearing a similar revelation from your companion makes you feel that you've just upped your intimacy quotient, then "Taboo Tales" is all about bonding, on an 80-seat scale.
"The more we talk about how fucked up we are, the more normal we all feel," says Laurenne Sala, who, together with Corey Podell, co-hosts the spoken word show at the Zephyr Theatre on Melrose. The semi-bimonthly night of readings, kept to eight performers, five minutes a piece, revolves around a the theme of revealing intensely personal/shameful/embarrassing stories.
Paul Bartunek Almie Rose Paul Bartunek Jillian Lauren
More hilarity than therapy, Taboo Tales nevertheless has many deeply felt moments among the cringe-inducing stories. January's show included tales of an uncomfortable hookup with a foot worshipper, enduring a weed-free honeymoon, discovering a philandering father's Filipino mistress, a sex life obscured by beef curtains, selling sex toys in the Deep South, and one gay man's deeply disturbing inaugural experience with cunnilingus. Hostess Sala even managed, incredibly, to milk for laughs her own story of what it was like, at age sixteen, to be cleaning her father's apartment after his suicide and to discover a cache of gay porn and dildoes.
At last night's show, however, Sala turned over the spot for the evening's most disturbing revelation to Andrea Abbate, who read a piece called, "I'd Rather Be Raped." Abbate was raped, repeatedly, by her father, while her clueless mother lay dead to the world on sleeping pills in the next room. Eventually, when her father begged forgiveness, Abbate gave it, but conditionally: he also had to buy her a horse. He consented, and "life went on." Abbate's strategy for coming to terms with the horror is employing black humor plus "it could have been worse" rationalizing. She clearly realizes that her father's foibles are far more despicable than most men's, yet she maintains the perspective that they were just that: foibles.
Mercifully, Taboo Tales begins and ends with far lighter fare. Abbate's confessional was bookended by bigger laugh-getters, like Jillian Lauren's experience as an escort to a Japanese businessman with an enema fetish, Almie Rose's unfulfilled aspiration to become anorexic, and Rahul Subramanian's childhood yearnings to be a white kid rather the dark-skinned Indian he was, who described himself, in Little League photos projected on the wall behind him, as "a turd in a sea of clam chowder."
C. Brian Smith, of the January cunnilingus story, confessed in "Porn and Sausage" that once as a reporter for The Advocate, he found himself on the set of a gay porn film, and found the experience revolting, as he does anal sex in general. His explanation: "The vagina looks and smells like a rose. The asshole looks and smells like an asshole." Dirty movies, he said, are like sausage: when you see how they're made, you'll be put off forever.
The evening also included two suitably horrifying Internet dating nightmares. Michael Kass' taboo tale was of an online contact who quickly went from shy to stalker to sadomasochistic submissive to face-slapping dominant, then capped the evening off by sobbing, immediately after their ill-fated attempt at intercourse, that he reminded her of her dead father. Then former Groundling Jean Black described going on not one, but two dates with a man simply because of an insatiable curiosity about a tube he had sticking out of his abdomen, which she fixated on while ignoring his discussion of the challenges of raising his special needs child. When "Tubey," as she dubs him, won't admit to the existence of the tube, even as she steers the conversation to personal medical history, Black realizes that the romantic potential of online dating is severely limited when fascination with medical appliances serves as the only draw.
Paul Bartunek Rahul Subramanian
Uncomfortable, yes. Enjoyable, very. Heighten the feeling of authenticity, in an unplanned moment of tension, Black endured a snipey aside from another performer critical of her lack of sympathy to special needs children, adding a bit of real-time unscripted drama to an otherwise tightly structured show.
Before each Taboo Tales show begins, audience members are asked to anonymously jot down their own taboo tales on slips of paper, and these are read throughout the evening, so everyone's in on the squirmy catharsis. At one point, Podell and Sala held a giveaway -- a CD by recently deceased comic Mike DeStefano -- by drawing one of the slips at random and reading it aloud, challenging its writer to come forward and claim the prize, thereby identifying himself. The slip of paper said, "I fucked a priest." One man gamely stepped forward from the audience, taking the disc and receiving an impressed round of applause -- presumably not for the priest-fucking, but for the courage of sharing.
Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Avenue
Next show tentatively scheduled for May 4, but check the website to be sure: