This collection of performance pieces gives you a real sense of what W.O. Mitchell was like in person, and also shows you a bit of how his stories developed. “Melvin Arbuckle’s First Course in Shock Therapy” is a comic reworking of a chapter from How I Spent My Summer Holidays, the chapter where the boys use dynamite to blast a hole for a cave in Melvin’s backyard. As funny as that was in the novel, this rendering is ten times as much fun. Mitchell had a great sense of comic timing, knew when to pause, when to stretch out a word or a moment, and how to ad lib something in response to audience reaction.
This kind of story telling survives today in the gentle comedy of folks like Garrison Keillor and our own Stuart McLean, and apparently has its roots in the work of Mark Twain and Stephen Leacock. It relies on our understanding of certain types of characters and a slow but steady buildup to a comic moment, foreshadowed and assisted by lots of little moments along the way. With the really good tale tellers you can almost sense what the climax is going to be before you get there, but you don’t mind, because getting there is so much fun.
There are five performance pieces in this production, originally recorded between 1976 and 1983.