Hutchinson Reads Sedaris

‘Tis the season to be irreverent – at least for actor Joshua Hutchinson who, tomorrow, begins a four-day stint performing “Holidays on Ice: A staged reading of two short stories by David Sedaris” at the Sonoma Community Center. The reading benefits center’s arts programs for children.

“I have a great time at Christmas, but I know so many friends that are miserable,” says the 34 year-old native Sonoman. “Sometimes you want to look at the dark side of Christmas.”

Such is the métier of bestselling author Sedaris. The celebrated essayist was named “Humorist of the Year” in 2001 by Time magazine and has also received the Thurber prize for American Humor. His latest book, Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim topped last year’s New York Times bestseller list. More to the point, Sedaris is known for penning darkly humorous stories that lampoon our cultural assumptions as refracted through the prism of his own, often jaundiced, experience.

Consider “Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol,” which finds a truculent theater critic giving scathing reviews to elementary school Christmas pageants, “Christmas Means Giving,” a tale of outrageous competition between neighboring families who battle to the death for the title of “most charitable.”

“He’s unapologetic, which is what I love. He offends people and I think it’s great – it’s life,” says Hutchinson of Sedaris’ work.

Hutchinson was inspired to do a fundraiser while watching a Napa pal’s band perform in New York, where he has spent the past several months working the circuit as a journeyman actor.

“For whatever reason I thought ‘I’m going to do a fundraiser’ when I go home for the holidays,” says the affable Hutchinson. “When I called the Community Center I said ‘Look, I’ve broken enough windows in this place, I should be raising money for a lifetime.’ My brother and I grew up there – the Boys Club was at the community center was there when I was a kid,” he says, then adds proudly, “I was raised, my entire life, on 2nd Street East.”

Hutchinson’s Hollywood good looks and a chameleon-like talent have landed him parts on television’s Charmed, Angel and Roswell (clips from some of Hutchinson’s gigs can be seen at his website www.joshuahutchinson.com). He recently wrapped Mr. Gibb, a comedy shot in New York produced by actor Kevin Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions. In the film, Hutchinson plays a cop and shares the bill with Tim Daly (of TV’s “Wings” fame) and popular character actor William Saddler.

Many in Sonoma may recognize Hutchinson’s face but not the name the may see in lights. Known locally by his birth name “Joshua Farrell,” Hutchinson had to take his father’s middle name as his stage name when he discovered, to his chagrin, another “Joshua Farrell” registered with the Screen Actors Guild.

Though Hutchinson has yet to do a solo live performance of the ilk he’s staging tomorrow night, he’s clocked hundreds of hours of stage time performing plays by the likes of Shakespeare and David Mamet and is confident he will likewise do justice to Sedaris’ work. That said, Sedaris himself is known for reading his work almost as much as the writing itself. He is a frequent contributor to National Public Radio’s This American Life and often sells out his appearances as fans clamor to hear his Truman Capote-esque renditions of his stories.

This, of course, does not daunt the actor.

“I haven’t heard him read – I’ve just read his stuff. I was like ‘Should I hear it?’ Then I’m like ‘I’m going to do my take on it.’ It’s going to be a dry delivery because the words speak for themselves,” says Hutchinson, warding off the specter of doing a David Sedaris impersonation.

But what happens when the audience is so floored by Hutchinson’s interpretation of Sedaris’ oeuvre that they storm the stage, books in hand and confusedly plea “Will you autograph this please, Mr. Sedaris?” this reporter is cheekily compelled to ask.

“Then I’ll just have David come out – because he’s going to come see it,” Hutchinson drolly jokes. “Really.”

“I’m going to make it pretty clear that its David Sedaris’ writing [not reading]. I think he’s a great writer. I’m kind of hoping people pick up the Holidays on Ice and go home and read it with their family around,” Hutchinson says, adding dryly that he anticipates a spike in Sedaris’ Sonoma sales.

“I just wanted to gather a bunch of people and read something – if they laugh, they laugh. Christmas can be so stressful sometimes it’s good to have an outlet.”

The Sonoma Community Center presents Holidays on Ice: A staged reading of two short stories by David Sedaris, starring Joshua Hutchinson. on December 17, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and December 18 at 3:00 p.m. $5 suggested donation. The center is located at 276 East Napa Street. For more information about Holidays on Ice, contact Shelly Willis at 707-938-4626 ext. 4.