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Take this story and slam it

Posted by Marcia Dick  October 29, 2010 10:04 AM

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Reed Snyder

Bruce Marcus welcomes the crowd with open arms.

"Are you ready to have a good time with the most basic form of entertainment of the human race?" asked MC Bruce Marcus.

After a season in downtown Boston, Cambridge and JP, the storyteller collective MassMouth brought its "story slam" to Johnny D's in Somerville Oct. 26.  The night's theme was "horrified," and Somerville residents got in free — if they had the guts to compete and the luck to be chosen.

But the Mouths couldn't have been more welcoming if they'd held a plastic pumpkin full of candy. They picked newbies at the rate of two to each veteran. Each slam's winners couldn't compete again until the season-ending "Mouth-Off" in the spring, leaving the stage wide open. A good third of the audience were first-timers, as evidenced by a show of hands. A Mass Mouth "got story?" T-shirt hung behind the stage.

And yet, as the goateed and bloused Marcus thanked "hip harpist" Deborah Henson-Conant for supporting "us spoken-word folk," the night drew a speck of snarkiness from the occasional ungrateful child.

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Danielle Dreilinger

Esther Piszczek and Bruce Marcus listen to a story.

Musical guests Jim Infantino and Henson-Conant rattled off the rules, including "Fairytales are discouraged, but not for the reason you'd think." The timekeeper tested the bell that would mark the end of each five-minute story session, not a gong but a meditation bowl. Marcus waved his hand over the box of entrants' names.

White-haired Hal Miller-Jacobs was first. "3M Company," he announced, then reeled off a tale about his work team evaluating reflective clothing on a creepy bunch of mannequins. Though he rambled a bit, his voice picked up verve: "My favorite was the Italian goddess. Ugh, what a figure," he said, and "It was a wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiindy night."

"Ding," the bell said politely.

The story used to be longer, said Mass Mouth cofounder Andrea Lovett: He shaped it in her "How to Tell a Kick-Butt Five-Minute Story" workshop. (The next is Nov. 1.)

The  five judges (including the Globe's "Miss Conduct" Robin Abrahams) cogitated and Henson-Conant strummed her harp like a flying V to cheers. Finally, Miller-Jacobs's top score went up: 8.9. To rule out any Iron Curtain action, that and the lowest scores would be discarded.

Storytelling is in an interesting spot these days: On the one hand, the NPR totebag crowd; on the other, the "Moth." Aarin Murray of Somerville hopped up with Starlee Kine verve and a retro dress to tell the story of meeting a weird math teacher in France. She had a bit of trouble leading the story to a climax, which was… in a room dominated by older white guys … that "creepy men are people too."

Newcomer Robert Smith read a long rhyming poem off his smart phone. Poor Marcus was hamstrung. First he reminded everyone urgently that rules forbade electronic props. But a few minutes later he apologized: "I did want to mention that we liked your piece!" he said, wringing his hands. Smith's top score was 5.

No such ambivalence met local favorite Michael Anderson, a Michael J. Fox-at-50 lookalike who told the horrifying tale of "how I got fired as a male sensitivity trainer." He was stagey — his eyes practically popped out of his head as he described a crush as a "hhhhhot tamale!"— but undeniably hilarious. Even the sound guy cracked up.

At intermission, Murray, 21, left with her friends, craving ice cream and knowing her story had fallen a little flat. It was her second slam. She had "thought there'd be a lot more kids," she said, and instead both nights were majority "middle-aged men."

But so what? "Overall I think it's great," she said. The Boston newcomer was happy to find community-oriented events where she could met people. Besides, "It's a nice change of pace from the college scene," she said. "Everybody's friendly."

The stories continued, for so long even a petulant child might call uncle. Everyone woke up when Diana Weisner of Somerville, 26, recounted the adventure of babysitting five boys. The 2-year-old was in Pampers, the 8-year-old was in underwear, she said, adding tartly, "Good for him." Oh, but he didn't keep it on, as she demonstrated (clothes on). Forget a moral, pithy or not: At the moment of peak humiliation, Weisner wailed, "I'm never going to prom."

Marcus sighed happily. "I adore this," he said.

Finally, the final chapter was closed. Marcus warned everyone to wait to vote on audience favorite until the quantitative winners had been announced, so they could spread the wealth.

"You've got to go to more of them. They're great," said Chris Osborne, 62, in the process of voting for himself (it's allowed). He's not a pro, he said: "Just a ham."

Osborne won audience choice. Weisner took second place after Mr. "Hot Tamale." She's hosting the second-ever Somerville story slam Nov. 16 at Precinct, the site of her January Snuggie Pub Crawl. The theme: "It happened to me on the T." She's getting MBTA personnel to host, "ragtag commuters" to judge, and hopefully a busker.

Weisner shot a steely look at a not-quite-sold observer. "You take the T, don't you?" Then she nodded. "I'll see you at the slam."

Contact Danielle at somervillescene@gmail.com.

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