As a cynic, I attend 2nd Story events patiently waiting to be disappointed for the first time. I tell myself it’s bound to happen. I attend most series around here like goddamn church services, so I’ve been to enough to have been disappointed at least once by each and every one of them, except for 2nd Story. Time and time again, they prove why they’re one of the longest-running live lit series in Chicago, and they proved it again Monday night with their show titled, “The Aftermath: Stories of Miracles and Beyond,” the finale to their 2013-2014 season of “As the Dust Settles.”
This particular series takes place every month on the second floor of Webster’s Wine Bar, located in an area of the city that takes me either twenty-five minutes or a full hour to get to depending on how early I leave Avondale, and whether or not the Ashland bus decides to move at a pace faster than a sitting rock. My friend and I arrived just before the doors officially opened, so we didn’t wait too long before being led upstairs to a warm and cozy eating room pock-marked with sofas.
Webster’s Wine Bar (photo courtesy of tripwhat.com)
In league with all Chicago live lit shows, the event began about half an hour later than the listed time of 7:30pm, but this gave everybody the chance to run into old friends and catch up. By the time the show started at 8:00, the audience had settled into the space.
First up was Cristina Correa with a story of her grandmother, “a real, live witch.” In a family trip to Puerto Rico, her grandmother told stories of the religion Santería and how it’s survived all these years. From there, Correa traced the years since that trip through two timelines – one of an intangible magic she tried to hold onto, and one of familial relations, of fights between her father and uncle, and her grandmother cutting off all contact. Correa’s performance held the audience’s attention well enough. Her performance was timid and quieter than it should’ve been for a series like 2nd Story, but her descriptions of her grandmother’s home, Santería, and the other details of her life at the time were vibrant and loud enough to make up for the quiet in her voice.
Earliana McLaurin rekindled the audience’s college memories and nightmares with some of her own. Eight months shy of graduating, she went from academic and financial security to homelessness and living in her school’s performance hall with slipping grades and less than seven bucks to her name, all in less than a week. When it all seemed hopeless, McLaurin was on the verge of calling it quits on college until, out of nowhere, a school administrator came to the rescue. Her reading was a bombastic punch to the night, and her performance was directed in a way that truly emphasized what kind of dire straits she was in at the time, like how after a couple days of living in the school building, she looked rough. Not rough. Rough.
I should mention there’s a solid ten to fifteen minutes between each story so people can talk about what the performances remind them of, telling our own stories of miracles, also so people can eat and drink lots of wine. With performances like these, it’s hard not to continue the themes created by them with our own tales. As for my friend and I, we mostly drank water and played with the candle on our table, which turned into playing with melted candle wax, which then turned into just playing with hardened wax and sprinkling the crumbled bits on our event programs. To put our actions into perspective, we are both college graduates. With honors.
In her 2nd Story debut, Bronte Price gave us a showstopper. Her story began idle and harmless enough. She’s in high school! There’s one of the many fake bomb threats! Everybody’s making fun of it! Haha! She ably brought the audience back into that high school mindset of snark and eyerolls, described her best friend as a teenager, and brought life to the fear she and her friend had of losing each other after graduation. Their fears came true and stayed that way until April 15th, 2013 came around. She first only mentioned the date, said what she was doing that day, then what her ex-best friend was doing – running the Boston Marathon. At this mention, the air thickened, the crowd gasped and hushed with the weight of a dropped brick, and she had each person in the room in tight grips for the rest of her piece.
The night’s last performer was 2nd Story vet Darwyn Jones who told us of a visit to his mother in the South. She asked him to go to church with her, which sounds harmless until you find out that Jones does things his mother’s Southern church congregation wouldn’t approve of, like be interested in men instead of women. Jones had us all either laughing our asses off or on the verge of “Oh my God” tears from the sheer love and devotion his mother showed him by leaving her church, and the love and devotion Jones showed by letting her go back to the church for her own happiness. He focused on how they each put each other’s needs first, showing the audience what a true relationship between a mother and her child should be.
With Jones’ performance, the season ended in laughter, cheer, and most importantly, hope. It was a show I needed to see, if I needed it, I’m sure at least one other person there did as well. That’s how I know a 2nd Story show has done what it’s supposed to do. Whether I’m at 2nd Story for professional purposes, to watch friends perform, or just for the hell of it, I’ve left Webster’s feeling a little less alone. That’s what this series is good for, because the readers and their stories aren’t chosen simply based off their talent. They’re chosen on how well they and their stories can relate to the audience, how well they can include us in the conversation, maybe help us start our own. That’s what helps to make 2nd Story such a force in the live lit community here – it’s not just people reading at you, but it’s people having a conversation with you. That’s what makes every show work, and it’s what made their finale excel.