Clay McLeod Chapman – author of Nothing Untoward, The Evil One and more – brought his one-man storytelling session The Pumpkin Pie Show to The Overlook Film Festival, a riotous journey through three performative, first-person narratives, in which tone, content and Chapman’s character vary wildly.
The first story – really, the first line of The Pumpkin Pie Show – opened with Chapman remembering the first time he considered throwing his baby in the fireplace. This was the only story he read from a script on a podium, with the others seemingly spinning out of him unbidden. It was the first time he’d performed this story, he told us after, and it was chilling. The next story was from the point of view of a father who’s lost his daughter at a rest stop after a long and trying road trip, a story that starts out discomfiting and grows into something harrowing. After two pretty dark stories, Chapman rounded out the session with a hilarious Lovecraftian tale told by a boy in his first sex ed class, horrified by the Cthulhian labyrinth of the vagina.
Every story pushes boundaries, generates huge laughter and nervous seat-shrinking. So much of that is Chapman’s writing – I’m anxious to read his short stories, as he’s a powerful writer – but even more so, it’s his delivery. He’s got an enormous, remarkable voice and presence, an unusual staccato pacing to his words that never gives the audience a moment to relax. He’s animated, dynamic, pulling his listeners into each scenario with forceful eye contact and gestures that encompass the entire room. When he says “you,” you’re confident he really means you. You’re a part of each of these stories, as much as Chapman himself, as much as that wayward daughter Grace, the baby in the fireplace, Mrs. Lovecraft the gym teacher and hapless sex educator.
Chapman ended the performance by telling us that he’d be giving one-on-one storytelling sessions over the next couple of days, so I went back for more, despite the fact that the Lovecraft story ended with an extended sequence of Chapman motioning toward my crotch with horror. (Hey, it had to be someone in the audience, right?) I’m so glad I didn't chicken out of this more intimate format of The Pumpkin Pie Show. Sitting in folding chairs a few inches from one another and tucked away in a small corridor, Chapman brought me into a story titled “The Poor Man’s Mermaid.” It’s like he sized me up and knew just what I wanted, gifting me with a story that couldn’t have been more perfectly tailored to me if I’d written it myself. For fifteen minutes, I felt magicked out of myself and into an existence that was strange and lovely and terribly sad. I was so moved, staring into his imploring eyes and hearing this dark, lonely fable. It was something special.
If you’re at The Overlook, Chapman’s doing more one-on-one sessions tomorrow from 2-4pm on the ground floor of the hotel, in a little hall near the fireplace. Take it upon yourself to participate – and if you aren’t here, look him up, see one of his performances if you can, or buy one of his books. Chapman is doing something that feels new and present, and his particular brand of alchemy both needs and deserves an audience.