James Braly is, above all else, a storyteller. As evident from the languid tones in which he phrases his well-sorted thoughts, conversation comes easily to him.
The talent once found him work as a speechwriter. But Braly left that field long ago for the allure of the New York City theater district, and, more accurately, the allure of a story well-told. His story.
It could be labeled stranger than fiction, what with the tale of a kiddie-pool home-birth and placenta recipes counted among the excerpts from Life in a Marital Institution, billed as "20 years of monogamy in one terrifying hour."
Early versions of Life were first seen at The Moth, the famed and MacArthur Award-winning storytelling venue in New York City. Braly describes the place as "where the rubber hit the road" for his now-lauded show — although the initial groundwork was laid when a supervisor in his motivational speechwriting days told him to study Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. He laughs at the memory. "That's when I knew I'd made a wrong turn."
And the real cataclysm happened years later, as he read a profile about controversial baseball player Roger Clemens. "I started to loathe him," Braly says. Clemens, roughly Braly's age, had already made a brilliant career from his passion.
His choice was clear: "You can go through the rest of life being pissed off at Roger Clemens, or you can make a shift."
And shift he did.
"My code, for writing and performing autobiographical material, is that I don't tell other people's secrets," Braly says. "I tell my own.
"You may have been serving me Brussels sprouts for the last 15 years and I have been feigning joy, and one day I get on stage and say, 'I hated every freaking bite.' But that's my secret."
Not a well-kept one these days. Braly's works have been broadcast on This American Life, he's spoken on The View and Today, and he's now writing a screenplay and memoir version of Life. After more than 120 performances off-Broadway in Manhattan, during which it was named a New York Times Critics' Pick, the show has been touring the States, a process which gives new life to the routine. "The script is the script, the stories are the stories, but I've gotten to know it in ways that I didn't know it when I performed it in New York."
His local visit is actually a homecoming; from fourth grade through his high school years, Braly lived in Denver. Though he appreciates Colorado now, he says it hardly prepared him for moving to a pre-Giuliani New York City. He says it took three or four occasions of armed robbery to attune himself to city life.
Sounds a little like his description of Life itself.
"The show is very dark, very funny," he says, "not necessarily in that order."
The costumes were amazing and added to the brilliant production.
The striking colors and textures are reminiscent of Southern Colorado and New Mexico. Lovely work.