Tellabration 2009: Better than ever

Rik Reppe at Tellabration 2009

Rik Reppe at Tellabration 2009

Only a couple of chairs remained empty by the time the Tellabration 2009 evening concert got underway. Many of the folks in attendance had been at the Loft Literary Center since that morning, attending workshops, listening to open mics, a liars' contest, and showcases of some of Minnesota's best spoken-word talent. But no enthusiasm was lost as the first tellers stepped up to the microphone.

Host Katie Knutson opened with the theme for the night: the Brothers Grimm story of Hansel and Gretel, which she told in a 2-minute version. What followed were six performances that all, at the least, touched upon the themes of poverty, isolation, and parental abandonment present in the original.

A modernized retelling by Sara Boyle Trautner, updated for the era of home foreclosure and credit-card debt, succeeded at balancing the comic and the tragic beautifully. Despite hewing closely to Hansel and Gretel's major plot points, Trautner forged an original path in her construction of the stepmother's character; part greedy, part irresponsible, and in the end very desperate, she became much more than a villain. The story's ending avoided the closure offered by the Grimms' version without leaving the audience hanging.

Katherine Glover's subdued style lent itself well to her adaptation of a Chinese story of a jade-sculptor on the run from his king. Her version featured a transexual main character and an implicit open question to the audience on the value we place upon (and the risks we will take for) art and free expression.

A seemingly odd choice for a storytelling concert, slam poet Khary Jackson proved to fit into the lineup well, with three poems perfectly tailored to the theme. An epistolic rant from the Brothers Grimm to Walt Disney got the audience's blood flowing and set up a sometimes hilarous, sometimes puzzling two-part poetic retelling of Hansel and Gretel, injected with a healthy dose of sex and the surreal.

All of the tellers were accomplished in their own styles and subjects, and the mix of voices and tales was spot-on. But extra kudos should be heaped upon Rik Reppe. His piece used the metaphor of bread crumbs from the original Hansel and Gretel to illuminate the story of a wife's struggle to cope with her husband's early-onset Alzheimer's. Reppe's precise control of tone played the audience perfectly, slipping between humor and sobriety with a subtlety that is his greatest strength.

If this year's Tellabration is any indication of the storytelling year to come, 2010 holds great things.