Taboo Tales

By Andrew Andrews

"Backup Host" Tony Carnevale helps hosts Kejal Macdonald and Vanessa Golenia draw random confessions from the "Taboo Jar" at Taboo Tales on the Striker Stage at the Flatiron District’s The Peoples Improv Theater.

It seems storytelling has become so commonplace these days that a show really has to push boundaries to stand out from the crowd—remember our review of Stories from People Who Pooped Their Pants? Recently, Taboo Tales branched from its Los Angeles roots to launch a satellite at New York’s Peoples Improv Theater, thanks to local host Vanessa Golenia and her 9.5-month pregnant (but still rocking high heels!) storytelling co-host Kejal Macdonald. Wondering if it was possible to take the genre to new depths, we decided to check it out.

If you’ve been to a storytelling show before, there’s a good chance that you were handed a slip of paper upon entering and asked to write a one- or two-line story of your own and drop it into a basket, with the hosts reading random submissions between storytellers. Tonight was no exception, and some audience members were even bribed to own up to their dirty little secrets (think along the lines of a PostSecret postcard) in exchange for small prizes, like a pair of candy nipple tassels. Most of the authors refused to come clean, but sometimes the prizes were “too good” to pass up—so desirable, in fact, that we suspect some of the prizes were claimed not by the people who actually wrote them, but by randos that felt the reward was worth the risk of confessing to “crimes” that they hadn’t really committed!

Eleanor Phillips started the storytelling by admitting that a pelvic disorder caused her to lose her virginity long after her peers, and even then only after playing the sexual equivalent of “red light/green light” with her first partner! Next up, Victor Varnado opened his set by popping and locking in celebration of his birthday before recounting the difficulties of growing up as an albino person of color in race-obsessed Alabama. Third to the stage, Richard Cardillo taught us why one should never try to hook up with a stranger in a seedy nightclub after getting drunk and watching a melodramatic movie, then the aforementioned Macdonald postponed the delivery of her unborn son to leave us wondering how she ever managed to reach adulthood, having a mother with such a hands-off parenting style that she moved into another house, leaving her children behind in the old house to raise themselves alone!

After some more secrets from the audience, Jamie Brickhouse, author of the new autobiography Dangerous When Wet, explained how he managed to become blackmail-proof by admitting his deepest secret to his father before publishing it for the world to read. Then, Sarah Riccio closed out the show with tales of her stint as the “Mother Teresa of the sex industry,” and the surprise revelation that “drunk football players are much less rapey then Lifetime television would lead you to believe.”

So, does Taboo Tales take the genre to new depths? Surprisingly, no. This is simply good storytelling by well-qualified presenters, as expert at addressing touchy subjects as they are at spinning a yarn. So if you’re not easily flustered by real people bearing their souls about subjects that most of us would rather not even mention in private—let alone, discuss publicly—check out this show in New York or Los Angeles before it grows so famous (and popular) that tickets become hard to come by!


Andrew Andrews attended Taboo Tales at The PIT/Peoples Improv Theater in Manhattan on Monday, May 15, 2017 @ 8:00pm to write this review.