Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

David Sedaris
Celebrity Series of Boston
Review by Nancy Grossman


David Sedaris
Photo by Adam DeTour
The Celebrity Series of Boston was founded in 1938 by pianist and impresario Aaron Richmond and has presented a remarkable selection of performing artists throughout its 80-year history. On April 10, a packed house at Symphony Hall welcomed David Sedaris for his 14th Celebrity Series appearance. He made his debut in 2002, is listed on the just-released schedule for the 2019-2020 season, and can always be counted on to bring a fresh, delightful performance with a surprise or two.

Known for his propensity to sport some, shall I say, non-traditional attire, Sedaris strolled onto the stage wearing black, sequined culottes and knee socks, and a new Comme des Garçons tunic-length jacket. He immediately drew attention to his outfit, claiming that the black jacket made him look like a rabbi who had been mauled by a tiger, and proceeded to rotate to show a pair of symmetrical vertical gashes on the back of the garment. His untucked shirt also had long strips of fabric hanging below the waist, giving the appearance of those things that drop down to smoosh your windshield in a car wash. "I look amazing!" Sedaris asserted.

Before reading a word of his own, Sedaris introduced a young writer he has recently "discovered," inviting Cindy House to share one of her stories. Anytime there's an opening act, the audience holds its collective breath until it's over, but in short order House showed why she's a Sedaris favorite. Her story was touching and funny, her writing style both down-to-earth and evocative, and her delivery relaxed and confident. House has an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University and resides in New Haven, CT, with her husband and their son.

Sedaris is an author of books, short stories, and personal essays; his work has been featured on public radio, audio recordings, and recently as a commentator on "CBS Sunday Morning." With no shortage of items to choose from his library, he does not rest on his laurels, but shares his observations about a range of current events. On this night, his musings were inspired by the photos of politicians in black face, causing him to wonder what old photos any of us could be concerned about if they were to surface. He is not overtly political, but he lets it be known what side he is on with a smattering of comments. However, most of his stories are based on his incredibly honed powers of observation, either of things going on around him or in his own life.

The lengthiest story Sedaris read was "Father Time," a moving reflection about his 95-year-old father and the aftermath of a fall he suffered. It was an accurate portrayal of the stages the adult child goes through watching the parent's diminishing life, seeing one's own future, and finding the humor and the heartache in the process. Adding to the pleasure of hearing the story in the author's own voice, there was the unexpected inclusion of Dave Chappelle and Phyllis Diller as key characters in the tale, and a nature lesson about the birth of loggerhead turtles near his beach house, the Sea Section, in North Carolina.

In 2017, Sedaris published "Theft By Finding: Diaries (1997-2002)," a massive collection of his diary entries from those years. He has been working on a second volume, covering 2003-2020, and entertained with some excerpts in lightning round fashion. He often uses anecdotes based on people he meets at his book signings, and mentioned a man in his 50s who lived with his mother. When Sedaris asked the man what he does, he responded, "I'm mentally ill and that keeps me pretty busy." Sharing things like that in a straightforward way, with no judgment, is one of the things Sedaris does so well. He trusts his audience to see the world through a lens similar to his own and it is often eye-opening.

One can always expect Sedaris to recommend a book authored by someone else that he says is better than any of his that are for sale in the lobby. This year's entry was "A Life of Adventure and Delight," short stories by Akhil Sharma, and several copies were available right alongside "Calypso," Sedaris' latest collection of essays. To conclude the evening, the lights were turned up for a Q&A period. He was asked his opinion about Brexit, to describe his favorite culottes, and if he might consider teaching again. His response to the latter was genuine and unassuming when he admitted, "I'm not terribly bright. Every night the audience is my teacher." I can't wait to find out what he learns before his next appearance at the Celebrity Series.

David Sedaris, presented on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, by Celebrity Series of Boston at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue Boston MA. For more information on the series, visit www.celebrityseries.org or call 617-482-6661.


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