Think about this night at the theater like you would any other one night stand. Except perhaps this time you'll have wiled away the hours with a lively, charming man you won't regret in the morning. For years, Rawlins Gilliland was a welcome voice on public radio, telling stories with poetic insight. He earned listener's affection with tales of a life well-lived and now this bon vivant has written one of the year's most popular one-man shows. After a sold-out evening at Sons of Hermann Hall in May, Gilliland returns to the microphone for One-Man Show: Rated (R)awlins at the Kessler Theater on July 31.
"It's very intimate; it's very adult; and it's all true," he says - smiling face backlit by the bright pink walls of his East Dallas kitchen. "I don't want to give too much away, but the stories from my childhood are shocking."
Gilliland's knack for finding himself wrapped up in stories might be described as lucky or fortuitous, but any serendipity was a direct result of his sense of adventure. The son of activist-artists, Gilliland grew up with a sense of vivacity and he left no risk untaken. As a young man, he stowed away on airplanes, backpacked around the world, was the key eyewitness in a murder trial, developed film from Harvey Milk in San Francisco, earned a National Endowment for the Arts Master Poet grant, and climbed the corporate ladder at Neiman Marcus. He holds all the trump cards when it comes to cocktail party stories.
"It's true that I was often in the right place at the right time, in some ways, but I also notice things other people might not," Gilliland says. "First you have to pay attention to your surroundings, but then you also have to have something to say about what you noticed."
Gilliland has the eye of a poet. He can make a listener jealous of even the most mundane experience, like the time he was sitting at a stoplight but stopped to notice his peaceful surroundings and observe the routine journey to his destination. He could discuss almost any topic with an expert eloquence - if you want him to get passionate, bring up the Great Trinity Forest, which borders his backyard.
But with this show, he has more to say than just observations on nature. His stories about being a gay Southern man are poignant and occasionally titillating, which is why Gilliland labeled the show NC-17.
"I wanted to feel I could tell the stories how I wanted to," he says. "It's not that they're all about sex, but a lot of things in life have to do with sex and I didn't want parents to bring their kids. I'm sure kids would love it, but it's a very adult show."
After years as a faceless poet and storyteller in print and on radio, it's fitting that Gilliland would take to the stage to tell the stories of a life well-lived. He's got enough charm for the entire city of Dallas and the audiences seem to agree, as the Kessler is struggling to hold on to tickets.
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According to Gilliland, even if his stories weren't captivating - which they are - the formula he's developed for the show would be a sell out. He invited local musician Matt Tolentino to put together a small jazz band to create an improvised soundtrack to the show.
"Other than one or two moments that we wrote out, I just trust the musicians to know what to play when," Gilliland says. "It makes the whole show into an experience."
If you want to experience a night with Gilliland, you'll have to snag one of the few remaining tickets. Or you can join us in crossing our fingers that this is just the first of many more one-man shows by one of Dallas' most interesting men. More information at thekessler.org.