Garrison Keillor January 6, 2008
By Glen Creason
Early in his performance at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday afternoon Garrison Keillor described himself as the last of the flag bearers of radio story-telling. He continued a few words later to say that youngsters of today, having never been exposed to the giants of the art like Bob and Ray or Jean Sheperd think he invented the form and is a genius. Like the many humble and self-deprecating remarks that flow flippantly from Mister Keillor’s golden tonsils this is a rather massive understatement. Keillor demonstrated with his immense skills and supreme artistry at this show that story-telling is very healthy and ready to take the 21st Century by storm. Oh, and yes this man is a genius for more reasons than just this one.
What is so utterly and exquisitely wonderful about his one-man shows is the magic this man has for glorifying the spoken word. As simple and straightforward as pure story-telling seems, it takes tremendous talent to make those words harmonize together to create the equivalent of a wide-screen, high definition, Technicolor movie in the mind’s eye. Listening to this man tell a story is as comforting and enlightening as settling in with a beloved and great novel. Garrison Keillor gives the impression of speaking plain about regular folks but there is great artistry behind each paragraph. It is impossible to underestimate this art, this skill and his physical gifts if you are a lover of language.
At Cerritos, just as he has done in the past he brought only a stool, a bottle of water, a twinkle in his eye, his red running shoes, a dignified brown suit and an imagination as fertile as Spring on the northern plains from where he hails. This day’s feast of words contained bonuses including a soulful, albeit off-key singing of “ Rivers of Babylon” and five of the man’s own sonnets which ranged from sublime to um, earthy. His poetry, like that on his show “the Writer’s Almanac” is compelling, insightful and melts icy cynicism down to a fine mist. Mostly, however, the man told his trademark Lake Woebegone tales that must make you chuckle in delight or shake your head at the rich humor and genuine folk wisdom. Like an expert rock climber he moves slowly and steadily from one ledge of ideas to the next, never losing his grip or focus and eventually standing at a peak with dazzling results. Such was the effect in tales of his “borrowing” his father’s motor home and destroying it on a drunken ice fishing escapade or the python under the Pedersen’s porch or the visit of the Lutheran church ushers to the national competition in Long Beach, California.