Storyteller Donald Davis returns to Indianapolis 

Donald Davis
  • Donald Davis

I don’t know how Donald Davis is still alive.

On September 25, Davis took the stage at the Indiana History Center (450 W. Ohio Street) during “The People That We Love,” the third performance of the Storytelling Arts of Indiana’s performance season, and revealed his childhood affinity for amateur chemistry. He would wait until no one was home and then, well, light things on fire. Like the form of gunpowder he made using drugstore (“Not CVS!”) chemicals. Seriously. Still alive. Wow.

Davis was really was in his element on Saturday night. His novice forays into detonation were often supervised by his 26-year-old uncle, a fellow scientist who planted many the mischievous seed in Davis’ mind with the power of suggestion. (He left behind two of the three ingredients needed to make gunpowder, knowing Davis had an insatiable curiosity and access to an encyclopedia.) The funny tale took a touching twist; Davis’ tomfoolery reminded his tortured neighbor (see also: things on fire) of a science-loving son he had lost in WWII.

During Davis’ performance on Friday night, he really had the crowd’s attention with his childhood stories of playing football with neighbor kids and partaking in the accidental — and separate — breaking of both of his younger brother’s collarbones. Apparently being a scamp is genetic — Davis’ mother, in her determination to ride a horse that her father had brought home for farm work, managed to break both her forearms at separate times by jumping from fence to horse and, not surprisingly, being launched into the air. Maybe I should be surprised that his mother was alive long enough to give birth to her storyteller son.

I really enjoyed the humor in Davis’ stories and understand why he is so well-loved. Much of what I liked was in his postures, especially the hand he would cast towards the audience in a “Well, what would YOU do?” gesture, but also his genuine excitement in reliving his childhood adventures. I’m inclined to believe his childhood chemistry set isn’t packed too far away.

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