The LA Theatre Works is an audio theatre company based in Los Angeles, USA, using professional and, often, high-profile actors in both audio and radio plays. Their extensive library of recordings range from adaptations of classic literature to newer pieces.
Five Short Stories by Women is the unimaginative title of this collection of five short stories written and read by women. The collection was ably directed by Mark Holden at Invisible Studios in West Hollywood.
The stories range in length from almost an hour down to just over 15 minutes for the final entry. While they’re all highly enjoyable, the collection is an odd one because each piece offers little variety from the last. Certainly, the topics are all unique but, ultimately, we have five dramas that are equally paced.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll quote the short synopsis given for each story, beginning with Life After High School by Joyce Carol Oates. It’s read by Sarah Drew and “takes us to a time in the late 1950s, to South Lebanon High School, and shows us the lives of three people at a time of self-discovery.” Touching on romance, obsession and suicide, this tale meandered along before taking a turn and winding up in a very different place than I expected.
In the Banks of the Vistula by Rebecca Lee is the longest story, read by Emily Bergl. The teaser says “an ambitious student wants desperately to make her mark in a linguistics class” – which doesn’t sound that interesting, yet this short story was of particular note, perhaps because of the length which allowed the events to be fleshed out much more than the others. The subject matter itself was also the most intriguing, being a study in plagiarism and the unexpected consequences it has between the student and her teacher.
Never Marry a Mexican by Sandra Cisneros is “the story of a woman named Clemencia who remembers her family, her parents’ culture, and her affair with a married man.” Read by the sensational Rita Moreno, the narration was emotion and passionate, standing out well above all others in the collection. This is the first time I’ve heard Rita Moreno narrate an audiobook and I’ll certainly be looking out for more.
In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried by Amy Hempel asks “What do you say to someone on their deathbed?” and “addresses this question head-on, as a young woman describes her visit to a dying friend.” It is nicely read by Lynn Collins but regretfully the prose itself lacked the emotional ride and/or revelations that I was hoping for.
Once Upon a Time by Nadine Gordimer moves away from the USA to tell a “dystopian fantasy – with overtones of the racial inequality in Gordimer’s native South Africa.” The marvellous Alex Kingston narrates the short story with a South African accent and ends the collection with an engaging, quality reading.
While Five Short Stories by Women is an enjoyable listen, I would have preferred a lot more variety in genre, style and tempo. If not for the different narrators, any loss of concentration might have blended each tale into the last.
Five Short Stories by Women was released in June 2016 by LA Theatre Works and, at the time of writing, is available as a free download from Audible. It runs for just under 3 hours in total, with each story placed as a separate track on the recording, allowing listeners to easily revisit individual tales.