A Cynic Tells Love Stories by Katherine Glover: 4.5/5

A Cynic Tells Love Stories is playing at the Augsburg Mainstage, Sun Aug. 2 8:30PM, Thurs Aug. 6 5:30PM, Sat Aug. 8 7PM.

A Cynic Tells Love StoriesI’ve been lucky enough to have seen Katherine Glover perform in several different venues, doing storytelling and poetry.  She always impresses me with her sharp, smart writing, her delightfully bawdy sense of humor, and her grounded, conversational performance style. Glover is one of my favorite solo performers in the twin cities; I’ve yet to see anything of hers I didn’t like.

A Cynic Tells Love Stories is a step above anything I’ve seen of her before.  It is divided into four chapters, “the Hopeless Romantic,” “the Cynic,” “the Slut,” and “the Wife.”  “The Hopeless Romantic” starts out with familiar territory for her:  tales of romance, love and loss from her travels abroad and her past.  It features heavily her signature sense of irony and wit, with a healthy dose of honesty and self-criticism artfully woven into the stories.  Of particular note is the story of Lana, where she subtly tells us of her unrequited crush on a friend from high school, deflected by consistently claiming that she doesn’t go after straight girls, and the mix of emotion that followed when she found out the friend was dating a woman.  In “the Cynic,” Glover describes her decision to pursue sexual relationships without emotional attachment, and her eventual realization of the fact that she was hurting those around her, with the poigniant line, “I never thought anyone could care enough about me that I could hurt them.”

It’s in the second half of the show, however, that Glover really excels.  In “the Slut,” she gives us insightful stories of how sluttiness has little to do with how many people you sleep with, recounting her nickname in college, “Katherine, who gets too much ass,” which was applied at a time when she was not, in fact, sexually active.  She tells us of how she came to enjoy the name, and felt a certain power from being a slut, and being able to be sexually active and empowered.  Discussing her bisexuality, Glover drops the amazing line, “I’m so tired of the stereotype that bisexual means the same thing as slutty.  They’re different, and I happen to be both.” And yet, once again, while talking of sexual experiences, she lets her storytelling reveal a deep dissatisfaction, preparing us for the final chapter, “the Wife.”

“The Wife” is the reason this piece feels so different from what I’ve seen of Katherine’s work.  She recounts her short marriage to a man who she loved dearly, but whose paranoia and mental illness gradually caused him to look on his wife’s sexual history with contempt and disdain.  Glover walks us slowly and carefully through the first time they met, up through their divorce, in a segment as deep and emotionally honest as anything I’ve seen onstage in a long, long time.  Without this segment, this show would be good; with it, it’s spectacular.

One of the reasons the last segment works so well is because of the incredibly conversational, informal style that Glover uses onstage.  If it were overly presentational, or stylized, both things which can work very, very well for certain performers and pieces, it would not carry the same emotive resonance.  The way she performs this piece makes you feel like she could be talking to you personally, you quickly start to relate each story to your own experience in a deep way.

I was also impressed with Glover’s physicality and use of the space.  Augsburg is a large stage with a wide, spread-out seating arrangement–both things that can make it very hard to perform a personal, intimate storytelling show.  However, she travels the space and uses the limited props she brings with her onstage in a way that helps establish a seperate space for each of her stories.  In the great storyteller war of music stand vs no music stand, she comes down in the middle, choosing to use the music stand at strategic points in the performance, especially in the final segment, where it accentuates the massive change of tone and content.  She integrates physical comedy into a number of her bits in ways that are campy and fun.

The final verdict: see it.  This show is exactly what a storytelling show should be–well written, well performed, well directed, an intimate, personal look at the performer’s life that is entertaining, relatable, and enriching.

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