Thursday, January 28, 2010

Garrison Keillor wryly observes life in two-hour monologue

Garrison Keillor, the writer and radio personality, showed off his awesome ability for spinning story after story without stopping for a sip of water on Tuesday evening (January 26th) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. This was the first of two one-man shows that were sponsored by the Oregon Symphony, and Keillor easily kept the audience engaged with his finely honed, amusing and ironic tales of life in the fictional town of Lake Woebegon, Minnesota and some autobiographical stories as well.

After Keillor, a tall and lanky fellow, came out on the stage, he launched into a ballad-song that consisted of a series of poems (or perhaps sonnets - as he claimed). In his light baritone (he used a microphone), he made many unusual rhymes: "Oh Lord, please exist" with something about an atheist, Fred Allen and Magellen. I think that Keillor extended his attempt to be a troubadour a little too long, though, because its repetitive melody became boring.

He had much more success with his regular storytelling, weaving one story into another, taking a detour but also coming back to the main thread. He combined terrific timing with a minimum of movement and gestures to make his points. One of the central themes involved his stoic upbringing in a harsh climate ("winter is nature's attempt to kill you") so that you can learn to overcome adversity. In fact, you should be grateful for adversity and suffering. There were humorous stories about a farmer who punched a cow that had farted in his face, about taking a leak on an extremely cold winter evening in the middle of nowhere, and about a man who shovelled snow off his roof and then fell asleep - only to wake up and find that he was stuck to the roof. The funniest stories involved a female cousin hiding from an irate schoolteacher and a man with a bowling ball of cremains para-glided nude above a bunch of Lutheran pastors.

Keillor also reflected humorously on turning 67 years old and the stroke that he experienced a few months ago. He also talked about making peace with a relative who had been carrying a grudge. According to Keillor, a peace offering has to be something homemade and you don't bring up whatever caused the rift in the first place. Instead, you just pretend that it never happened.

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