David Kodeski’s True Life Tales: I Can’t Explain the Beauty, Live Bait Theater, through December 7. Writer-performer David Kodeski has achieved no small fame for his banal brand of anthropology. Scavenging the personal histories of strangers–in this case, the mid-1930s diaries of one Fred Nye–he makes mountains of obscure molehills, filling in the gaps with anecdotes and reflections. Kodeski’s obsession with the everyday and preference for the anonymous is in part a laudable reaction to the self-involved performances of Spalding Gray and his ilk. But this effort proves that gazing at someone else’s navel isn’t necessarily any better.
Kodeski is a magnificent storyteller; short of Garrison Keillor, no one is as mesmerizing with the mundane. Charismatic and relaxed, polished yet present, and equally generous to audience and subject, he could make shampoo-bottle copy engaging. And the little laughs scattered throughout his looping travelogue are quiet genius. Unfortunately the life of Fred Nye, or at least the glimpse we’re afforded, is a crying bore.
To be fair, Kodeski handily defuses the voyeurism and condescension implicit in his approach, presenting Nye as a pleasant, genuine individual. And his own search for the “lost landscape” of America elliptically articulates the desolation at the heart of the postcolonial dream. But connecting his trip west with Nye’s never quite rises above arbitrary structure, and the irresistible invocation of 9/11 is similarly gratuitous.