On the menu at Stories on Stage this month: History, Two Ways. Two writers, two approaches that tease new flavors from dry facts.
Mary Volmer, in Reliance, Illinois, uses a moment in time, an era, as the setting for her characters, and gives a beating heart to 1870s Illinois, where a young woman with a disfiguring birthmark overcomes poverty and her own mother’s betrayal to discover her life’s purpose through the help of some of the most colorful proto-feminist characters you’ll ever meet.
Jordan Fisher Smith, in Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight Over Controlling Nature uses one specific, horrific event ts as a way of opening our eyes to the larger issue and meaning of a moment in time. In 1972 a Yellowstone hiker is killed and partially eaten by a grizzly, triggering a lawsuit against the department of the Interior and igniting a raging debate among environmentalists over what to do when nature has been disrupted by human beings. How do we go about repairing it? How much should we try to control or manipulate it in order to heal it?
We don’t usually feature non-fiction at Stories on Stage Sacramento but these are compelling issues tackled in different ways by excellent writers. We’re excited to present these two very different uses of history as a jumping-off place. Mary Volmer is a Grass Valley, CA native and a much-praised writer of historic fiction (Crown of Dust and her just-published Reliance, Illinois.) Crown of Dust, set during the Gold Rush, earned a Publisher’s Weekly starred review and drew praise from The New York Times Sunday Review of Books for “investing her pioneers with piquant inner lives and a poker-faced lyricism.” Similar praise has arrived for Reliance, Illinois, published in May 2016: Booklist singled out its “rich cast of characters and well-evoked setting” and Publisher’s Weekly noted its “smart touches of humor.” Mary earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College. a master’s from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Hedgebrook. She teaches at Saint Mary’s College and lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
Nevada City writer Jordan Fisher Smith spent 21 years as a park and wilderness ranger in California, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska. In reviewing Engineering Eden, Booklist praised Smith as a “galvanizing storyteller fluent in the conflict between environmental science and politics.” He’s also the author of Nature Noir, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2005 pick, and an Audubon Magazine Editor’s Choice. His magazine work has appeared in TIME.com, Men’s Journal, Aeon, Discover, and other places, and he’s been nominated for awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Jordan is a principal cast member and narrator of the documentary film “Under Our Skin,” which made the 2010 Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature, and he appears in a 2014 sequel “Under Our Skin 2: Emergence.”
Reading an excerpt from Reliance, Illinois will be Mallory Monachino. A newcomer to Stories on Stage, Mallory recently returned to Sacramento after a year spent in Los Angeles studying with renowned acting coach Doug Warhit. She was last seen on stage in Sacramento in the EMH production Look Back In Anger and was the female lead in the short film Labyrinth, written and directed by Lonon Smith. A former competitive synchronized swimmer, Mallory works as a yoga instructor.
Reading an excerpt from Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight Over Controlling Nature is Matt Rives, an actor, musician, and stand-up comedian. In addition to several Stories on Stage readings, Matthew has played lead roles in Noises Off and A Comedy of Errors and has performed by invitation at Laughs Unlimited, The Sacramento Comedy Spot, and Luna’s Café. His notable roles include “Franz Liebkind” in The Producers and “Buck Barrow” in Bonnie and Clyde with Runaway Stage Productions. Matthew also played the role of “The Captain” in the world premier of Frankenstein with Resurrection Theatre. Most recently, he played the role of Tom/Narrator in Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Mr. Aarons in Bridge to Terabitihia, and Henry Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.
Stories on Stage Sacramento at the Sacramento Poetry Center, Friday June 24. Doors open at 7PM, readings begin at 7:30. A $10 donation is suggested.
Now in its seventh season, Stories on Stage Sacramento continues to bring the best in literary fiction to a growing Sacramento audience. Featured writers for 2015 included Tobias Wolff, Elena Mauli Shapiro, Sharma Shields, Ann Packer, Karen Bender, Kathryn Ma, T. Geronimo Johnson, Bonnie ZoBell, Adam Johnson, and Naomi Williams. The lineup for 2016 includes Anthony Marra, Vendela Vida, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lori Ostlund, Mary Volmer, Maureen O’Leary Wanket, Jodi Angel, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and, in a new partnership with the Los Rios Community Colleges, an evening devoted to the best writing from their prize-winning literary magazines. As a completely volunteer organization, supported by donations, we’re proud of the fine writers we’ve brought to Sacramento, some of them for the first time, and we’re excited to continue to present more fine writing read by actors to Sacramento lovers of literature.