"Getting Away" with Stories of Fiction at the Getty Center

The lights were turned down low, and we sat listening; "Suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles and hour with the top down to Las Vegas...Holy Jesus!" Alec Baldwin screamed. What are these goddamn animals?" Laughter erupted in the mostly full 450-seat auditorium as we enjoyed the vicarious pleasure of a wild ride through the Mojave Desert, in Hunter S. Thompson's Cadillac, with Alec Baldwin at the wheel. Baldwin was reading the opening chapter from Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," in the first of three readings of selected short works of fiction performed on Saturday evening at The Getty Center as part of a performance called "Getting Away". In "Fear and Loathing" Thompson takes a drug-fueled trip to Las Vegas as a journalist "in search of the American dream." Baldwin - standing on stage dressed in a dark suit, looking like the character Jack Donaghy, he plays in NBC's "30 Rock" - carried the audience along on the journey with a mischievous energy in his husky voice.

Next to take the stage was actor Fionnula Flanagan, ("Transamerica", "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood") who read the short story "How Wang-Fo Was Saved", from the collection of short stories "Oriental Tales" by Marguerite Yourcenar. This fable, set in medieval China, tells the story of how legendary painter Wang-Fo angers the emperor, because the beauty of his paintings cause the emperor to become disenchanted with the real world. Wang-Fo paints a painting so beautiful, that its magic allows him to escape from the emperor. Read by Flanagan with solemnity and reverence, this tale is a radical departure in tone and energy from the raucous ride of "Fear and Loathing". The journey slows to a contemplative walk in Yourcenar's story, as Wang-Fo, aided by his disciple Ling, follows his quest to transcend reality through the perfect beauty of his paintings.

The evening resumed a comic momentum when Isaiah Sheffer read Woody Allen's short story "The Kugelmass Episode". In this story the middle aged, and bald Professor Kugelmass is unhappily married. "I need to meet a new woman... I need to have an affair" Kugelmass implores to his un-helpful analyst. Kuggelmass instead finds a magician who inserts him into Gustave Flaubert's nineteenth century novel "Madame Bovary". Kugelmass becomes Emma Bovary's lover; a fantasy that goes awry with disastrous consequences when the magician's trick malfunctions. Sheffer's humorous reading - rendered more effective because he looked and sounded not unlike how one might imagine Kugelmass - showcased the Woody Allen wit that most of his fans are familiar with from his movies.

Scheffer is the founder and artistic director of Symphony Space in New York City, which produced "Getting Away" as part of its Selected Shorts series. Alec Baldwin and Fionulla Flanagan are regulars in Selected Shorts performances, which began twenty-five years ago, and have been featured at The Getty for eighteen seasons.

According to Sheffer, who also hosts and directs Selected Shorts, the theme for Saturday evening was stories in which the characters, either "metaphorically or physically," "Get Away." While "How Wang-Fo Was Saved" may have fit thematically, its somber tone didn't flow with the humor in the other two stories. Members of the audience were seen to nod off hearing of Wang-Fo's solemn search for artistic perfection. However the wild ride through the desert in Hunter S. Thompson's Cadillac, and Professor Kugelmass' absurd love affair with a fictional French beauty, allowed the audience themselves, for an evening, to "Get Away."

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