Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David Stern
Hosted by Ira Glass.
Radio with pictures?
This American Life is a popular radio show broadcast on WBEZ in Chicago that reaches millions of listeners every week around the world. This American Life is hosted by Ira Glass, who has been presenting the show since it first aired in 1995. The show has won the prestigious Peabody Award, and basically features ordinary, everyday people coming in and relating their stories.
On May 10 this year Glass took the show to a live audience at New York University’s Skirball Centre for the Performing Arts, and it was beamed live via satellite to hundreds of cinemas across the US and Canada. This is not the first time that Glass has taken the show to a live theatre audience. Hehas taken This American Life on the road three times since 2000. And there was also an Emmy Award winning television series that ran from 2006-2008.
Glass comperes the evening with his usual trademark mix of dry wit, erudition and self-deprecating humour. Fans of the weekly radio show will enjoy the experience of seeing Glass and his various guests live. The curious and the uninitiated will also find much to enjoy here.
This live theatre show follows the same format as the radio show, although here it incorporates some visual acts that would never work on radio. There are a couple of musical acts, and an innovative dance routine performed by Monica Bill Barnes and Company and Anna Bass, which adds a bit of energy to the material.
Among the most enjoyable acts are a story about blind Vancouver writer Ryan Knighton, becoming disoriented and lost inside his hotel room, and comic Tig Notaro recounting her various embarrassing encounters with 80s singer Taylor Dane. Knighton also tells a wonderful and appealing story about how his young daughter often finds it difficult to deal with his blindness. There is an interesting segment about Vivian Maier, a reclusive Chicago nanny, who took thousands of photos depicting life in America from the 1950s to the 1970s. Maier never showed them to anyone. They were apparently discovered after her death and sold at an auction. Musical act OK Go get the audience to participate in a musical number by playing the notes via a specially downloaded application on their mobile phone, and while it is interesting it seems to go on a bit too long.
But there are also a couple of acts that fall flat, including Glynn Washington, the host of public radio show Snap Judgement, who recounts a barely interesting anecdote, and author David Sedaris, who talks about a couple jumping the queue at a coffee shop. If you were listening to these acts on the radio you would probably be tempted to temporarily switch channels.
Melbourne’s Cinema Nova is holding special screenings of This American Life Live on May 26 & 27, and June 2 & 3.