Sun, Moon, and Earth

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2 segments

We fell into a special mood on those nights off the Zinc Cliffs: gay, but with a touch of suspense, as if inside our skulls, instead of the brain, we felt a fish, attracted by the Moon. —Italo Calvino, “The Distance of the Moon.”

We invited Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich from the story-telling science show Radiolab to curate an evening of stories with us, and we knew their choices would be strange and wonderful, just like their show.

This program features one of their picks, Italo Calvino’s “The Distance of the Moon.” As Jad and Robert say in their introduction to the reading, they like stories “Where you come to the end, and you say ‘Wow, what happened then? or ‘What does that mean?’,” stories that “park you in an uncertain place.” In this case, that “place” is both the distance between the Earth and the Moon, and the distance between human beings.

Calvino was a Cuban-born writer who grew up in Italy, fought in the Resistance during World War II, and then started his career as the editor of a collection of Italian fairy tales. This experience may have influenced his own work, which has elements of fable and a kind of playful naïveté, while still dealing with complex subjects.

“The Distance of the Moon” is from Calvino’s celebrated collection Cosmicomics. Each   story deals with a scientific “fact” (the book was published in 1965, so some are now discredited) and spins from it an entrancing fantasy. His subjects range from the nature of matter, to the existence of color, to the fate of evolution itself.  

As the title suggests, “The Distance of the Moon” draws on a theory that the moon used to be closer to the Earth, and then slowly began to pull away (at the rate of 4 billion years-worth of finger nail growth, Jad Abumrad points out.)   In this halcyon period, Calvino imagines, moon “fishermen” would land to collect Moon-milk, and his story involves a strange cast of characters, including “old Qfwfq”, a recurring character, a Captain Vhd Vhd and his voluptuous wife, Qfwfq’s deaf cousin, who has a special connection to the Moon, and a little girl called Xlthlx. (Yes, Schreiber actually pronounces these names).  Calvino’s other works include Invisible Cities (1972), and If on a winter's night a traveler (1979).

The reader is the Tony Award-winning actor Liev Schreiber, whose many stage and film credits include “Glengarry Glen Ross” (Tony Award), “Henry V,” “Macbeth,” “The Sum of all Fears,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Omen,” “Kate and Leopold,” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” He also wrote and directed the film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated. On television he plays the title character in “Ray Donovan.”

From the moon, to the sun. Our second story on this program is by the fantasy writer Ray Bradbury. Here the author of The Martian Chronicles imagines a colony on Venus, where it has rained implacably for seven years, and the idea of the sun dominates the lives of children who can’t remember it.

“All Summer in a Day” was first published in 1954. It’s performed here by the musical theatre star Michael Cerveris, whose Broadway credits include the Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Road Show,” and “Passion,” and most recently, Lisa Kron’s musical “Fun Home,” for which he won the 2015 Tony Award.

“The Distance of the Moon,” by Italo Calvino, performed by Liev Schreiber

“All Summer in a Day,” by Ray Bradbury, performed by Michael Cerveris

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit http://www.symphonyspace.org/events/series/71/selected-shorts

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