by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday October 28, 2015

Sam A. Mowrey in 'Spellbound'
Sam A. Mowrey in 'Spellbound'  

Portland Story Theater performed "Spellbound," an evening of live storytelling at the Alberta Abbey on Saturday night. The Halloween-themed show, complete with people in costume, a quirky music duo and lighting effects provided a shivery preview to All Hallows Eve.

The six storytellers took turns sharing their true tales of near-misses with horror on the black-curtained stage of a spooky converted church. In voices ranging from humorous to charming to comforting, the seven stories evoked moments of terror in each of the tellers' lives, suspected brushes with other-world entities or misjudged shadows that sent the heart racing.

Sam. A. Mowry, acting as both MC and the final act, reveled in the quirkiness of the evening, adding that Halloween is a wonderful chance for Portlanders to "share our weirdness." And share they did, with glee, with a wink, with a cozy embrace of the strangeness that brought us all together.

To a packed house, the storytellers plied their wares, spinning carefully wrought tales of anticipation and momentary blindness to reality. Tim Stapleton told of his his terror at a midnight break in at his quiet apartment, the perpetrator insisting that he was someone Tim knew.

Lynne Duddy shared her haunting dream about trying to save her child, a dream many parents have had, but that she articulated so clearly, our own fear was immediately recalled. Annie La Ganga brought out her family's Italian ghosts, and shared the gentle humor that can accompany the moment you are visited by the spirit of a dead loved one.

Lawrence Howard told of his frightening teenage experience away at college, forced out into freezing temperatures for a few hours by a roommate dispute, and feeling hunted by a real or imagined stray dog on the street. Mary Welch also had cold adventures in college when the car she was driving slid off the road in remote Kansas, forcing her and her friend, both ill-equipped for the weather, to seek shelter in a Midwestern version of "Deliverance."

It wasn't at all surprising that two of the stories designed to frighten Portlanders involved snow storms.

While none of these tales rose to my hair-raising expectations, they were a fun way to spend a chilly evening in October, building up to the Big Scare this coming weekend. That the audience filling the joint held their breath waiting to be frightened is a testimony to the skill of the storytellers, and yes, to Portland's willingness to embrace their own weirdness.

Sam. A. Mowry, the gifted voice of radio and storytelling, wrapped up the evening with a recitation of Edgar Allan Poe's "Spirits of the Dead," accompanied by Meoneo's creepy jazz performance. The whole place was silent, sitting in the dark, listening to the Romantic poet, read to us in a voice so similar to Orson Welles. It was precisely the "willing suspension of disbelief" theatre requires, something so easily achieved in Portland, where truly anything is believable.

Portland Story Theater hosts events throughout the year, with Urban Tellers happening every second Saturday, and a number of larger affairs sprinkled in between. Catch a show if you have the chance: Wrap up in a comfortable sweater, bring a mug for tea, and settle in for a fun evening of old-fashioned storytelling. The only thing missing is a big roaring fire.

"Spellbound" ran through Oct. 24 at Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St. in Portland, OR 97211. For information about upcoming events, call 503-793-5484 or visit www.pdxstorytheater.org

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.