Riot Act Reading: The only literary event that risks total annihilation

by Ruth Kohtz, photos by Cole Sarar.
Hey all, it’s me! Ruth! (I hope Cole puts a really cute picture of me here.)


Guest blogging once again, and this time about an event that is particularly close to my heart. See, I got my degree from Hamline, but I got my education at the Turf Club…
For me, going to a Riot Act Reading at the Turf Club is a little bit like going to a family reunion. A family reunion of all the crazies I never knew I was related to and Grandma doesn’t talk about. As you can imagine, the experience is all at once titillating, dangerous, profound, creepy. I love it.


And so, when Crazy Uncle Paul D. Dickenson takes the stage with his beer and announces, “It’s poetry time”, I’m more than ready gather around the proverbial hot dish and dig in.
Paul appeared this time without his notebooks that he usually reads from, and instead kept one hand on the mic, with a look on his face like he was reading his poetry straight from the back of his eyelids. He talks about love like it’s easy (“I like the way you tilt your head”) and life like he’s suspiciously figured it all out (“Bullshit and bluster is the glue that holds a dude together”). Paul is also quite the storyteller, having mastered sci-fi by imagining a future of “Robots doing my work, my exact pride and jealousy.”

He’s the most honest even (especially) when he’s ridiculous, and this was by far my favorite time I’ve seen Paul perform.
I bet you didn’t expect a teleplay when I told you I was going to a poetry reading, now did you? Surprise!

Andy and Geoffrey

Next up were some, shall we say, for the sake of extending the metaphor, “cousins” who have clearly been raised, ah, elsewhere. Outside of society, somewhere weird, like academia or something.

Geoff Herbach and Andy Sturdevent read a teleplay called “Sideways Slide: The Shane Dooley Story”. According to Wikipedia, Shane Dooley is a real Irish sportsman, but you wouldn’t know it from this tender re-imagining of the life of a similarly (exactly the same) named baseball player born in St. Paul, MN. Shane Dooley starts playing baseball on the playground and ends up in cornfields, ashrams, and Arizona.
The piece seemed to be perhaps “in progress”, which speaks to the overall vibe of Riot Act nights. No one is punished for experimenting, and it is often very entertaining.
Our two author/performers fully committed to doing the voices of every Irish – Minnesotan – Californian in Shane’s life, and I would have definitely enjoyed more back and forth between characters. Maybe something like a big gathering of people and the actors have to go between characters so much that the experience of watching them is as exciting and delightful as the actual story line.
As it was, “Sideways Slide” was a super-fun rollick through the early years of a drunk hippie with the potential of sports grandeur – who certainly would have been no stranger to the hallowed rail of the Turf Club in his day.


Then it was (finally) time for some ladies to hit the stage!
Laura Brandenburg is co-founder (with Paul) of the Riot Act series, and she’s also a big fan of me, so I like her a lot. She took the stage and promised immediately to bring us all down, we who “whisper urgently into our cell phones at night.”
Her writing is similar to Paul’s in it’s literary twists and bows – I often would like to be able to read along when I listen to them, so I can accept each word, phrase, on it’s own terms.
As a performer, Laura is a ballerina on stage. Lithe, not lanky, keeping rhythm with her words, full of gravity, reminding us of the magic of physics and poetry – “In all your prayers, I never suffer enough, but this may earn me mercy.”
But unafraid to write with a wink – “I wish I had your eyes . . . in a jar by my bed.”

Laura is the big sister of this reunion, the one who was always smoking on the roof of the garage when she was supposed to be babysitting you, but you lived, didn’t you? So you should probably get over it already.

Mary Mack

All of this paved the way for the final performer of the evening, Mary Mack. She’s definitely the baby someone gave up for adoption that no one told us about. She first read an essay about trying to avoid getting a CT scan so she can afford a scooter – pithy because of the current healthcare debate, but also so much more! I mean, you didn’t think this was some magical “single payer healthcare land”, did you?
Part of her charm is definitely her tiny voice that she reads in, so it’s funny like when kids say inappropriate things, but there is probably no shortage of reviews that focus on that fact.
Mary definitely writes like a grown-up. Her second piece was about drunkenly buying a wedding dress at a garage sale – “I keep a costume box for emergencies – you never know when you have to dress up for a play or a marriage.”
The dress comes in handy, as she uses it to remind another boyfriend “he isn’t the first man I have not married.”

Mary Mack just came out with a recording called Pinch Finger Girl. She’s definitely worth checking out in person or on CD.
My date for the evening described Mary as “the female Mitch Hedberg, only she has whole stories instead of one-liners.” And hopefully a rich career ahead of her.

Mary Mack

With that, the Riot Act Reading comes to close. Clocking in at just about an hour, it’s the perfect way to get out of your house on a Sunday evening without having to feel it Monday morning. And mostly everyone will be glad to see you.
Thanks again to Minnesota Microphone for having me back, and for graciously respecting both performers and audience members by not employing the use of flash photography. Love you.

Love you too, Ruth! – Cole


About Cole

A thumb among fingers. A writer, a photographer, a lover of all things citrusy.
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