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Article
O'Callahan's Tales Enchant Audience

By MICHAEL ECK, Special to the Times Union
First published:
Wednesday, April 13, 2005

 

ALBANY -- Storyteller Jay O'Callahan was raised on "Pill Hill," a rise of fine, big houses in the Boston suburb of Brookline, mostly populated by the doctors who gave the neighborhood its nickname.

O'Callahan noticed the little things, and the big things, too, that went on in Pill Hill.

He talked about some of his memories Tuesday night at Capital Repertory Theatre, where he opened a one-week engagement of "Pouring the Sun" and "Pill Hill Stories."

O'Callahan didn't spend any time in Bethlehem, Pa., as a youth, but he told tales of the steel town as well.

"Pouring the Sun" was actually commissioned by Lehigh University, which asked O'Callahan to come in and preserve some of the region's history in his art.

He did just that, and his performance on Tuesday was galvanizing.

"Pouring the Sun" takes place on the same stage set as Pamela Gien's "The Syringa Tree," which is now finishing its run at the theater with a week of daytime school shows.

The rusted steel panels make an even better backdrop for O'Callahan's story of Ludvika Waldony, a woman who emigrated to America at 18, and whose husband and sons helped make the steel that went into the New York skyline, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Golden Gate Bridge.

O'Callahan's stage microphone was an unnecessary accouterment that proved even more troubling when it sputtered on and off throughout the performance.

Save that distraction, he was fascinating.

As Waldony, he went back in time to speak of a city that was a melting pot in every way, from the Slavs and Poles and Puerto Ricans who worked the steel, to the glowing, molten metal itself.

Waldony's story is filled with hard times, and O'Callahan doesn't stint. She outlived many of her children, only to become as hard as the beams that were cast around her.

O'Callahan's work is more overtly theatrical than the term storyteller might suggest, and he prompted laughs, gasps and tears as he burrowed deep into Waldony's life.

In the second half of the program, he stayed on Pill Hill and stuck closer to his own memories.

"Chickie" told of two boys growing up divided by classic schisms of class, one a "richy," the other a "toughy." If the idea of them coming together as unlikely friends sounds cliched, the telling wasn't.

An elaborate, deadly serious playground game of tag becomes a metaphor for O'Callahan and a linchpin for his story.

Again, he didn't shy away from the hard stuff, and the laughter was tempered with grimaces.

O'Callahan closed his lengthy program with "Equations," a grinning memoir of a Harold Lloyd-like dinner party thrown by eccentric neighbors.

O'Callahan is only in town for a week. Catch him now.

Michael Eck, a local freelance writer, is a regular contributor to the Times Union.

"POURING THE SUN" and "PILL HILL STORIES"

Performance reviewed: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes; one intermission

Continues: 7:30 p.m. today and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $25

Info: 445-7469

Web site: www.capitalrep.org