I love Ira Glass. I always have, but my admiration intensified last summer when This American Life left PRI and he took the fate of the radio show into his own hands, a move The New York Times equated to “Radiohead’s releasing its own album In Rainbows, or Louis C.K.’s selling his own stand-up special—except all the time, for every show.”
The same article said Glass had taken up dancing, and, to seal my adoration, had requested a pay cut after earning more than a quarter-million dollars from his home station in 2013. To cover his Chelsea mortgage, he’d go on tour. So it made sense when Glass turned his new hobby into a source of income with Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host, which hit the Smith Center on January 17.
Glass’ storytelling paired with interpretive dance by Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass to create a lively, inventive show about performance, love and loved ones lost. The stories stepped into the mind of a dancer and into the business of marriage, and summoned the ghosts of writer David Rakoff, poet Donald Hall’s wife and even Glass’ mother. Glass claims that dance and radio aren’t meant to mix; the performance proved otherwise. Some highlights:
1. Glass isn’t the sensitive guy you thought. Sure, he plays one on the radio, but he revealed he’s not always great at expressing his feelings, or even knowing what they are. He takes comfort in an anecdote from his therapist, who says every married woman who learns of Asperger’s is convinced her husband has it.
2. There was a Vegas tribute! Barnes and Bass swaggered to Dean Martin’s “I Love Vegas,” a comical lounge song about why he holds the city dear, among them “because my money’s here.”
3. Serial got a nod. Glass mentioned that This American Life often talks about different kinds of love: this love, that love, love where a teenage boy may or may not have murdered his girlfriend. Cue a split-second clip of Serial’s theme song ... and sheer audience delight.
4. He reused material. To his credit, it’s good material, but Barnes and Bass danced to James Brown’s “Sex Machine,” as they had in This American Life Live!, a one-off variety show streamed to movie theaters in 2013.
5. Did he dance? Maybe, maybe not. We won’t spoil the surprise (and not just because Glass emailed asking us not to). As he professed during the performance: “The thing about dance is you have to be there.”