Reality. "Some people live in it, some people don't," observed Happy Ending host and curator Amanda Stern on Wednesday, May 4 at Joe's Pub before introducing three writers with different takes on the subject. The topic seemed a fitting flourish to a week that included both a fairy tale wedding and the death of an international terrorist—each event both fantastic and true.
Andrew Foster Altschul read from his new novel "Deus Ex Machina," which takes place behind the scenes of a faltering reality TV show. Faltering, according to its gloomy creator, because such shows have trained the whole of society to behave extremely.
By contrast, Emma Straub's story "Mohawk" covers familiar ground, a couple facing the hollowness and fragility of their marriage once their child is away at camp. Stern requires each of her authors to "take a risk" on stage, and Straub's was perfectly synched to the plot of her story: she read aloud from a succession of letters she wrote to her parents at age 11. The dominant theme? "Send a package."
Jon-Jon Goulian believes he himself came in the wrong package. A cross-dresser from the age of 16, his memoir "The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt" explores the bewildering rites of passage that come with a gender-bending lifestyle. Goulian noted wryly that his very appearance was a risk—the evening was his first time reading in public. And he dressed for the occasion in a red tank top and pleated black skirt.
Musical guest Daniel Knox was the perfect foil to the three readers, offering up a cluster of darkly comic songs—you'll hear two in the excerpt above—about the end of the world, failed relationships, and wanderlust. A latter day Tom Lehrer, he has a 1940s musical sensibility, the piano technique of Franz Liszt, and the voice of Robert Goulet.
Listen to selections from the evening by clicking the link above.
Andrew Foster Altschul reading from his novel "Deux Ex Machina": "With each passing season The Producer grows less convinced of the Deserteds' reality, their basic humanity. They're more like cardboard cutouts; the personas they develop ever more elaborate, yet more predicable. Miley, one of the assistant producers, calls it 'televolution.'"—Andrew Foster Altschul, "Deux Ex Machina"
Emma Straub reading from her story "Mohawk": "The main drag in Northhampton was lined with shops selling handmade dream catchers and incense sticks. Grown women wore tie-dye. At a traffic island, a man played the tuba and bubbles came out. It was everything Jim had never liked about summer camp all in one town."
Jon-Jon Goulian reading from his memoir "The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt": "For the great bulk of my adult life...I have fallen short, sometimes dangerously short, of the conventional ideal of masculinity."