- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Pity you can’t wear pajamas and bunny slippers into the Round House Theatre Silver Spring. Storyteller Jon Spelman is such a compelling (and relaxing) painter of word pictures that you have to fight the urge to curl up at his feet with a blankie and beg for another tale.

He’s not a sleep-inducer — far from it — but there is something infinitely soothing and diverting about Mr. Spelman’s new work, “Off the Map,” that puts you in an amiable reverie. His quiet insights about rediscovering nature and taking the road less stressful are a balm for the ear and imagination.

This latest tale finds Mr. Spelman not as the laid-back recounter of yarns, but rather as a kind of Mad Hatter figure with a terrific vocabulary. He rushes about late or near-late, with to-do lists spilling from his pockets and every corner of his office. Mr. Spelman is so overscheduled that he doesn’t even have time to fully process the death of his 17-year-old cat, who dies at an inopportune moment and therefore gets shoved on top of file folders to be dealt with later. (Note to animal activists: The cat gets a suitable memorial and burial, so don’t go picketing the Round House.)

Mr. Spelman realizes that his mind is becoming like Washington — “overcrowded, distracted and dis-integrated.” His remedy is “walk therapy” in the urban oasis of Rock Creek Park. There he encounters a barefoot man in a cocktail dress and pearls, mysterious messages and cartoons taped to trees, and a fellow who confesses his frequent (and frequently luscious) abductions by aliens.

Amusing as these human encounters are, Mr. Spelman undergoes a “spiritual seduction” by connecting again to his love of trees, walking and nature. His free-association riffs on trees, woodpeckers and spotted owls hold a gentle, nodding poetry, unhurried and sure. The juxtapositions are whimsical without being treacly —discussions of trees lead to a funny, sweetly sexy story about a campfire sleepover in the woods and a burning crush on his friend’s mother.

The Rock Creek walks lead to the idea of really getting back to nature, and the second part of “Off the Map” deals with Mr. Spelman’s extended hike into the Adirondacks. After a hilarious start involving getting lost in the toxic wonderland of New Jersey’s Meadowlands, Mr. Spelman tosses aside his map and guide and relearns to trust his instincts.

At first hampered by an overstuffed knapsack — a lingering vestige of his overscheduled lifestyle — Mr. Spelman pushes through fear, discomfort and the unknown on his two-day hike. When he reaches his destination, Still Pond, he sits on a rock and watches the turtles and the salamanders, reveling in the knowledge that he has grown from a lister to a listener.

“Off the Map” has all the elements of a good story: a finely meandering style and lots of digressions that twist and turn until you don’t know how they are going to end up or how Mr. Spelman is going to tie them all together. You quickly fall under the lulling spell of his words and his ability to conjure scenery and costume changes with either a verbal picture or a sweep of his hand.

Director Nick Olcott wisely doesn’t fuss up the stage with too much scenery or effects — a stool, a table and a slanted ramp take us from the odd paths of Rock Creek to the Adirondacks. Mr. Olcott must have been charmed by Mr. Spelman’s voice, as well, because the show runs more than two hours, which is long for a one-man evening of storytelling.

However, you would have to look far to find better company than Mr. Spelman, whose ease with the storytelling genre makes “Off the Map” a destination worth dropping by. Pajamas optional.


WHAT: “Off the Map” by Jon Spelman

WHERE: Round House Theatre Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m.

Sundays. Through Feb. 1

TICKETS: $31 to $39

PHONE: 240/644-1100

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide