There's no such town as Jubilation, Florida. But there is a Celebration, Florida. Developed by the Walt Disney Company in the 1990s to the tune of several billion dollars, it's a planned community designed to evoke an idealized early- to mid-20th-century mainstream America. And it is in this strange place, this pseudo-anachronism, that N.M. Kelby based her short story "Jubilation, Florida," which is one of two works presented by the Central Works Theater Ensemble in "Dangerous Behavior: Actors Reading Writers 2008," at the Berkeley City Club (2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley) December 19 through 21.
The story is about two great pals, one male and one female and both middle-aged. Out of the blue, things suddenly slide out of pure platonic territory. "It's not a good idea," Kelby writes. "Nordan and Sara both know it. Both are over forty. Both love their spouses. Both are drunk. Both naked — and not thin. Both wonder if the other is lying when they say, nearly simultaneously, 'I've never done this before.'" They're in Jubilation, booked into adjoining hotel rooms in a sherbet-colored resort "with a permit-only beach where the sand is raked into traditional Zen patterns three times a day. There are no homeless people in Jubilation. No tattoo shops. ... You can't even walk down the side streets unless you have security clearance; surveillance cameras are everywhere. It's not the kind of place you'd have an affair in. But here they are, naked — and a little cold. It's off-season."
The story was recently chosen for NPR's "Selected Shorts," read for broadcast by actress Joanne Woodward. Kelby, a novelist (Whale Season, Theater of the Stars, In the Company of Angels, and Murder at the Bad Girl's Bar & Grill) whose many laurels include a Bush Artist Fellowship in Literature and a Florida State Arts Board fellowship, explains that it was "written on a bet," although "there is some disagreement on this point. In fact, the writer who bet me now denies the entire incident" and "says it did not happen. I remember it clearly. I am pretty sure that he said I could not be a great writer until I wrote a story about sex. I am pretty sure I blushed." As this happened in the South, "of course, there was bourbon involved." Named as the East Bay Express' "Best Small Theater Company," Central Works was formed in Berkeley in 1991 to focus on collaborative treatments of original works. At the City Club event, actors Tim Hendrixson, George McRay, David Winter, and Mary Knoll will read Kelby's story along with "Hunters in the Snow," Tobias Wolff's chilling tale of three fractious friends whose planned hunting trip goes very much awry. 8 p.m., $8-$15 suggested donation. December 19-20 (8 p.m.) and December 21 (2 p.m.). BerkeleyCityClub.com
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