Before the launch of Tales of the Tallywhacker: The Prostate Dialogues at Creative Alliance in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun featured Jon Spelman’s work under this headline: “Monologue combines story about the performers battle with prostate cancer with reflections on his own mortality”.
Writer Mary Carole McCauley opened her article saying,”After Jon Spelman got the bad news, he found himself thinking often and at odd moments about “Moby-Dick.” Perhaps that’s because the behemoth that was attacking the Baltimore storyteller was as submerged, unreasoning and unpredictable as any great white whale, and every bit as ferocious.”
At the intermission, Maryland storyteller Susan Gordon, who was sitting beside me, said, “It’s a fearless, intimate story. He never turns away from the issues of mortality.”
Jon Spelman does not flinch from the tough issues throughout the ninety- minute performance. Spelman, a veteran professional storyteller, knows how to handle his material and his audience with subtle timing and his deep compelling voice, which he plays with skill. He stitches the piece together with his characteristic wry humor and gives his audience breathing room with well-placed and surprising laughter throughout. During the ‘Q and A’ session afterwards an audience member who identified himself as a Prostate Cancer survivor said, “I appreciated your dead-pan humor – gallows humor helped me get through it.”
A woman who was sitting with her husband thanked Spelman for his performance saying her husband was battling prostate cancer. “You are the first one that has said anything helpful. Everyone should hear this – not just men, women too. ”
Spelman has developed the show over two years by using parlor concerts as a means to tell the story for live audiences and ask for their feedback. When I saw the show six months ago at a Parlor Concert, the piece was still in some flux although the aesthetic arc was solidly formed. Even then it was a powerful and compelling work, but Spelman was not satisfied.
I have known Jon Spelman for more than ten years as a top-ranked professional performer, coach, and colleague. His ability to shape and distill difficult material into powerful cohesive works has always impressed and often amazed me. When asked how he weaves all the threads of the story into a whole fabric, Jon laughs, “It is like quilting and making the pieces work together.”
In my opinion, the Prostate Dialogues shows Jon Spelman working at the top of his game as he tackles a tough topic from as close a perspective as its possible to have while, without shifting his gaze from the story’s relationship to his mortality, he comforts the audience with deft touches of humor.
After the show, I fell into a conversation with a stranger, a Baltimore artist who had never attended a storytelling performance before. She told me Spelman’s performance had whetted her appetite for more. “I am glad I came.” After a pause she added, “I do not know anyone who has cancer, but I think after hearing Jon Spelman’s story that I know more how to respond to them than I did before.”
I highly recommend Tales of the Tellywacker: The Prostate Dialogues . This show is storytelling at its BEST – told by a Master.
Tales of the Tellywacker: The Prostate Dialogues played for one-night only on March 22, 2013 at Creative Alliance at The Patterson – 3134 Eastern Avenue, in Baltimore, MD. For future events at Creative Alliance, check their calendar.