Opening Nights: Trash Talk

Garbage, those who generate it, and those who collect it.

Stokley Towles’ one-man show combines the brain food of a Town Hall lecture with the storytime tenor of the news from Lake Wobegon. As with some of his past projects (Waterlines, Trails Project), this one tries to bring a narrative blush to what might be the subject of a bureaucratic white paper. He gathered many of his stories, stats, and observations through interviews with employees of CleanScapes, which holds the contract for roughly half the garbage collection in the city (and whose employees happened to have bought out the house the night I attended).

Dressed like a Microsoft product manager in Oxford shirt and khakis, the gaunt Towles delivers an endearingly low-tech multimedia presentation on garbage and its role in the lives of those who generate and collect it. By multimedia, we’re talking poster images pinned to a black backdrop; actual objects recovered from dumpsters, including an “Alice in Chains” T-shirt and an abused American flag; items that will never be tossed in the garbage, e.g., a baby shirt from Towles’ own infancy; and a toy truck with human figurines used to demonstrate mishaps at the transfer station. (Apparently it’s not all that rare to mow down your dump partner with the truck door while backing toward the stanchions.)

Stories pile on top of one another with barely a breath between—one moment we’re in New Orleans, where the mayor measures the fun had at Mardi Gras by the volume of trash created, and where homes “vomited out their contents” after Hurricane Katrina; the next, Towles is interviewing audience members about what they know they should throw away but can’t. (“My dog’s bed,” said one guy.) Towles proposes some creative ways to reduce and better utilize garbage: a 24-hour conveyor belt showcasing junk to the public before it falls in the hole. Or a portrait studio next door to the transfer station where owners can be photographed with their beloved stuff. Or baseball bats onsite so people can work out their aggressions before bidding their stuff adieu. Another month-long run of his show begins Oct. 3 at Town Hall, after which he’ll tackle the subject of urban transportation.