THE RUMPLED MAN by Phillip DePoy
By Howard Pousner, For the AJC
June 12, 2023
You wouldn't expect an award-winning author of 43 produced plays and 21 novels to get excited about performing two free readings of an unpublished short story he wrote. Yet he is. Phillip DePoy even surprised himself.
The twinkle in his eye comes compliments of "The Rumpled Man," a half-hour reading accompanied by music, that will launch the "Written in Water" series at the Decatur Library on Thursday, June 15.
DePoy penned the story, a fusion of a Grimms' fairy tale and Appalachian folklore. He's also the curator of the six-part series that "Rumpled" will launch with two readings Thursday night.
"I love doing these shows at the Alliance or other theaters. I love playing in a band," DePoy said. "But for some reason, this little thing is so exciting to me."
Perhaps it's the memories from a decade ago, when he and choreographer Nicole Livieratos created "Hidden Away," an inventive series of scenes set and performed in the downtown Decatur Library that suggested what happens there after the lights go out. The blend of theater, movement, music, sound and light wowed audiences and critics. The dozen performances sold out, with people wrapping around the block each night.
"Written in Water" isn't meant to be that involved. The six programs will be performed in the newly repurposed fourth-floor space where series presenter Georgia Center for the Book hosts author readings and signings. The spotlight will shine on writers in street clothes for bare-bones stagings.
"The idea is that it's 'The Theater in Your Mind,'" DePoy said, repeating a phrase in the series logo. "The audience will be asked … to think about this as the way they'll see [the stories] happening in their minds rather than what's happening onstage."
The public seems interested already. Reservations for the first performance's 68 free tickets disappeared in three days. A second June 15 show at 8:30 p.m. has been added, but the tickets could perform a similar Houdini act. Houdini himself might have approved of the idea that loosely holds "Written in Water" together. It's what DePoy calls the "transitory nature of all things," something that has been an obsession throughout his creative life.
"Every live performance is by its definition ephemeral. The second it's gone, it's gone," he said. "That thing will never happen again. Even if it's the same show, it's a different show every night. We'll be telling stories that if you're not there that night, you'll never hear again [quite the same way]. For some reason, that's very moving to me."
Ephemerality is an interesting concept to apply to the series opener, given that "The Rumpled Man" is an Appalachian-accented take on Rumpelstiltskin, the fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their 1812 "Children's and Household Tales." However, the root story — centering on an imp who spins straw into gold in exchange for a young woman's firstborn child — is believed to have been circulating and changing for thousands of years.
DePoy's "Darlin' Cory," which opened the Alliance Theatre's 2021-22 main-stage season, also mixed storytelling from deep in the Appalachian holler, but with Greek mythology and more contemporary notes.
The author-playwright has been fascinated since studying folklore at Georgia State University in the late 1960s and early '70s with the idea that so many tales are "some perverted, twisted version of a story from the beginning of time."
Given Rumpelstiltskin's dark roots, "The Rumpled Man" reached an unexpectedly sweet conclusion during a recent rehearsal in the living room of the Decatur bungalow that DePoy shares with his wife and actress, Lee Nowell. Both Nowell and actor Chris Kayser play smaller roles in "Rumpled." The reading was capped with Nowell singing the perky traditional tune "The Cuckoo," accompanied by DePoy on mandolin and Kayser on guitar.
Like DePoy, the writers featured in the five subsequent "Written in Water" programs will be accompanied by other performers. While "The Rumpled Man's" longtime collaborators were so comfortable with the script that they read it straight through on their second run-through, other readings that will follow it are still works in progress.
Addae Moon's "Evocations at High Tide," which will be September installment for "Written in Water," is in fact more in the mind of the Theatrical Outfit associate artistic director than on the page just now. But with the 2022-23 season wrapping up, he's eager to focus on it. The autobiographical piece will deal with a son's relationship with his father, who is in the early stages of acute memory loss. Having not performed in decades, Moon isn't certain yet that he can stand on a bare stage and read the piece.
"This might be a good opportunity to brush off the stage rust, but I haven't decided yet," he said. "I'm also not sure if writing about something rather personal and fresh is something that I want to tackle as a performer. But the tension of that is what made me agree to do the project in the first place."
"Written in Water"
June 15-Nov. 16. 7 p.m. Thursdays. Free. Decatur Library, 215 Sycamore St., Decatur. 404-370-3070, georgiacenterforthebook.org.
June 15: Phillip DePoy reads "The Rumpled Man," an Appalachian retelling of a Grimms' fairy tale. (First show sold out. Second show, 8:30 p.m.)
July 20: Daryl Fazio reads "Elizabeth Quick." An extinction event leaves behind a wild planet. Elizabeth, searching for her daughter, must become someone she never thought possible.
Aug. 17: Valetta Anderson reads a section of "Edward Coles, From Boy to Man." After his brother manipulates him to work for a slave-holding president, what becomes of Edward's plan to free his inherited slaves?
Sept. 14: Addae Moon reads "Evocations at High Tide," an exploration of a father-son relationship as they attempt to build an emotional safe harbor after years of estrangement.
Oct. 19: Terrill Shephard Soules reads poetry from "Three Earth Dreams: Sleep, Laughing, and Birds of Paradise."
Nov. 16: Lee Nowell reads a section from "I'm Not Supposed to Talk About This." When a writer hits a creative roadblock, she decides to consult the forces of a 40,000-year-old divine feminine circle.