“Moth” echoes personal tales

This weekend a tight-knit group of devoted theater aficionados will flock — like moths to a flame — to a storytelling performance featuring a New Haven local and a Tony Award winner.

On Saturday, Oct. 6, The Long Wharf Theatre, in association with Bisno Productions, will host “The Moth,” an urban storytelling organization that puts on a series of different performances featuring an eclectic group of entertainers who share real-life vignettes with one another on stage. The presentation being produced this weekend, entitled “Save Me: Stories of Rescue and Redemption,” touts nationally celebrated actress Joanna Gleason, as well as Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, the vice president of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs.

“The Moth” was conceived 10 years ago in founder George Dawes Green’s New York City living room, where he brought together guests to emulate the porch-side storytelling of his hometown, St. Simon’s Island, Ga. The gathering evolved into a nonprofit storytelling organization that sought to experiment with nontraditional theater techniques. This weekend marks the third time “The Moth” will appear at the Long Wharf Theatre, and it is the first time Gleason and Morand have worked with the organization.

Gleason, the headliner for the event, has won a Tony Award for “Into the Woods” and has appeared in a number of films, including “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” In addition, she has had roles on “Friends,” “West Wing” and “The Practice.”

Sarah Austin, the show’s senior producer, said the performance — which features no scripts — is an attempt to create a distinctively oral tradition.

“Everyone has a story to tell, and anyone can tell a story at ‘The Moth,’” Austin said. “We work with each storyteller individually to craft the tale, but the stories are real and based on experience.”

Morand, a New Haven native, exemplifies the kind of novice performer that “The Moth” welcomes and praises, Austin said. Morand said this will be the first time he has acted since his youth.

“This will be my first time on stage since ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ in elementary school,” Morand said in an e-mail. “This is my first time speaking without a script or notes, so I have my share of nervousness.”

Despite his lack of experience, Morand said he was asked to provide the local voice amidst a varied group of storytellers.

“I studied English in Yale College and also went to the Divinity School, where I did much better in preaching than in theology, so I guess it’s natural that I get my turn on the profane stage,” Morand said in an e-mail.

Debbie Bisno, the producer of “The Moth,” said its shows often draw attention because of stories from “normal people” such as Morand, which she said many people find fascinating. Even so, she said, someone with Gleason’s kind of experience also generates energy.

Morand said working with Gleason enriches his experience on stage.

“I am excited — she is amazing, and sharing a bill with her redeems me in my parents’ eyes,” he said in an e-mail.

But audience members’ reactions remains a mystery. Much of the show’s reception will depend on the synthesis among the story, the way the storytellers convey their tales and the interaction with the audience, Joan Channick, the managing director of the Long Wharf Theatre, said.

“It feels like an unpredictable adventure, a little bit dangerous because neither the performers nor the audience knows exactly what to expect,” Channick said.

Bisno, like Channick, said attending Saturday’s show will be very different from the traditional experience of seeing a play.

“It is ‘a floating nightclub devoted to the spoken word,’ ” she said in an e-mail. “It’s an evening of true old-fashioned storytelling, in an intimate setting, that’s woven together by a host. Plus you can bring drinks into the theater.”

Tickets cost $30 for Long Wharf subscribers and $37 for other spectators.

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