Sunday, July 22, 2018

Running into Strange Capers

All the world may be a stage, but when Mother Nature wants to assert herself, it's all the players and audience who get wet.

After many rainy afternoon hours, the sky finally cleared a bit or at least enough to hope that  Quill Theatre would be able to stage tonight's installment of the 20th Annual Richmond Shakespeare Festival so we could see "As You Like It" at Agecroft. If nothing else, we were guaranteed that the extensive gardens and grounds surrounding the old Tudor mansion would would have had a good soaking, making them completely inhospitable to dining al fresco.

Which is a shame because picnicking is always part of the festival's charm.

Cut to Plan B, which involved the same picnic goodies spread out on a blanket on my living room floor. Two benefits to the indoor picnic? Drinking our Rose out of glass instead of plastic and being able to cue up "Music for Dining" on the turntable. Because nothing says impromptu indoor supper quite like a 1954 record by British orchestra the Melachrino Strings.

Only once the album and meal were finished did we venture to Agecroft, hoping all the while that the show would go on. Shakespeare lovers were already heading into the courtyard while we claimed our programs at the box office and found seats in the second row in time for the audience selfie.

What care I for words? Yet words do well when he that speaks them pleases those who hear.

Unlike so many overly warm nights watching Shakespeare at Agecroft, the rain had left behind cool air and high hopes we could make it through the love antics of the Forest of Arden crew before Mother Nature returned to her wet ways.

But then we're optimists like that.

My affection has an unknown bottom, like the Bay of Portugal

Did someone say Portugal? The first act passed in a flurry of love, cross-dressing and, yes, a wrestling match, as the Shakespeare fan next to me and I couldn't help but laugh out loud at the enthusiastic wooing and new relationship foibles on full display in front of us.

No sooner met but they looked; no sooner looked but they loved; no sooner loved but they sighed; no sooner sighed but they asked one another the reason; no sooner knew the reason but they sought the remedy.

The cast wasn't just strong, they were also embracing the spirit of the pastoral play with much scampering, confusion and poetry writing. The reliably brilliant Luke Schares had kicked the evening off by taking introduction duties, but followed that with his hilariously melancholy take on the exiled duke's buddy, Jaques. Rebecca Turner's Rosalind was particularly fetching as her male alter-ego Ganymede and truly, what woman wouldn't enjoy a turn coaching her beloved in how best to woo her?

Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.

It was my date's first time not only seeing "As You Like It," but also seeing the indefatigable John Mincks pull off his distinctive brand of comedic delivery (biting off his consonants and enthusiastically spitting out his retorts) and superb physicality in the role of the jester, while Nicole Morris-Anastasi nerdily nailed Phoebe's lovesick passion with the skill of a natural comedian.

Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.

During intermission, the man sitting next to me came back from a bathroom break looking like he'd seen a ghost. What he'd actually seen was a mummified cat in one of the walls and it had so unnerved him that he was sharing the details with us so he didn't have to deal with it alone. And he didn't just tell us, he proceed to Google it so he could know there and then the cat's story, and regale us with more information than we ever needed to know about Britain's long history of dead cats in house walls.

When we finally started looking pained at his in-depth dead cat rantings, he then pulled up the audience selfie from earlier and pointed out how we'd at least made ourselves notable in the photo while he and his wife sat there like bumps on a log. All I know is, you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family...or your seatmates.

Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?

As satisfying as the second act's shenanigans are, they were immeasurably aided and abetted by the fine rain that began falling not long after it began and kept up until the bows. Not anything heavy or obnoxious, but a delicate precipitation that left droplets on the people's hair in front of us and came down in front of the stage lights like a steady snow shower.

Because if you're going to enjoy "As You Like It" on a cool July evening - and especially if it's someone's first time seeing it performed live - there could be no more magical way to see it than in a soft, summer rain. Worm weather.

Take it from a woman who doesn't hesitate to speak what she thinks, all the more so when it pleases he who hears it.

And everyone knows she thinks a lot. Just not about dead cats in the wall.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Happiness Comes in Waves

I'm going to live forever.

At least, that's been the consensus for a while now among friends and family. With the exception of getting mowed down by a bus while I'm out walking, everyone seems to think my lifestyle will ensure that I join the centenarian club, thus continuing to annoy others with my sass and optimism for decades to come.

Back in the '90s, I read of studies confirming that people who flossed daily lived two to six years longer and that day took up daily flossing after a lifetime of merely brushing. I seem to recall telling Lady G about my discovery and how quickly I'd taken up the habit and her responding, "Of course you did."

Mock me all you want, but I don't leave the house at night without having flossed. Just ask my brother-in-law, who was giving me floss brand recommendations at his daughter's wedding last fall.

And just in the last couple of days, Facebook friends have provided the latest findings from the medical science community, providing still more validation for my lifestyle choices.

Leave it to Gallery 5 (where I've seen more shows than I can count) to let me know that behavioral scientist Patrick Fagan has come out with a study saying that attending a concert once every two weeks adds nine years to your life. Nine years. When I told Mac this momentous news at lunch yesterday, she barely stopped chewing, instead deadpanning, "Wow, you really are going to live forever, aren't you?"

Seems that live music increases a feeling of self worth, closeness to others and mental stimulation, all of which go toward upping our sense of well-being. And here I thought that happy feeling I get when the lights go down and the band starts playing was just me.

And now I learn from a posting by the drama queen that neuro-scientists strongly recommend that we go to the beach frequently. Seems that the sense of calmness and peace you have at the seaside is now officially called "blue space" for what the combination of soothing smells and the sound of the waves do to your brain.

Well, duh. Since my parents first took me to the beach at two months old, I have known that nothing makes me feel as completely unwound and at ease as hearing and smelling the ocean. The interesting part of that equation is the absence of sun in it.

As I was pointing out to my favorite lake person just yesterday, a rainy day at the beach is better than a sunny day at home any day. Even when an umbrella is necessary to walk the beach, I can still take in the briny air. Even when a thunderstorm has interrupted an afternoon reading on the beach, I can still be soothed by the sound of the waves.

That's because science has concluded that it's a change in the way our brains react to our environment at the beach that results in us feeling relaxed, happy and re-energized.

So next time I'm sitting on the porch swing at the beach having poetry read to me, know that I'm doing it for my health. Ditto flossing and going to shows.

Apparently, I need to stay healthy to avoid that bus.

Freedom of Pleasure

Perhaps a night that began with a discussion of a sculpture urinating, moved through smut and ended with memories of being called the naked family, wasn't the night to go stag.

I suppose you could call it an evening wasted with Tom Lehrer, but only because he called one of his live albums that. There was nothing wasted about it.

It began when I met the posse in Church Hill, where we promptly worried Queen B by taking the ridiculously steep 23rd Street hill to get down to Nota Bene. You know, the one that feels like your car is going to roll hood over trunk because it's so vertical?

For thrill seekers like Beau and I, it's a personal favorite as far as hills go. The ladies, not so much.

But dangerous descents were forgotten once the owner found out about my travel plans and began offering recommendations involving food and sculpture, followed by the arrival of a bottle of fruity and berry fresh Tete au Bois Dormant sparkling Rose. It was brought to the table by our lanky server who called us y'all because, as he put it, "You guys doesn't sound right."

Three women and one non-alpha male? Correct, not a guy in the bunch.

A menu of 5 different gin and tonics seduced Beau who ordered one called "Oh, you fancy, huh?" supposedly because it included black pepper, but I'm inclined to think he just wanted to say that to our server, who grinned when he did.

From there we had a food lovers' feast, starting with the creamiest of burrata over sweet little heirloom tomatoes with pine nuts and grilled cucumber vinaigrette that screamed summer. My favorite part of a charcuterie board was the duck and pork country pate, not to mention a superb rhubarb jam that resembled nothing so much as apple butter.

Staying true to Nota Bene's roots, we had two pizzas, a red and a white - sausage, kale and red onion plus potato and fontina with leek cream and olive tapenade - while marveling over the chew and flavor of the crust. So. Incredibly. Good.

Bucatini white bolognese seems to get ordered every single time we go to Nota Bene (not a complaint), but this was my first time ordering their branzino with pepperonata. The combination of the wood-fired fish and long-cooked, deeply flavored peppers, onions and garlic was nothing short of sublime, to the point that moaning after taking a bite became the norm.

People stared, we didn't care.

You don't put away that much savory food and call it quits, though, meaning we capped the meal with with tiramisu (full disclosure: we got two of them) and a bay leaf panna cotta with amaretti cookie crumble and blueberries, one of those desserts that pretends to be light but is only fooling the wishful thinkers.

Start to finish, the meal was memorable, every bite a masterful marriage of flavors, colors and textures, the better to complement the wide-ranging conversations that accompanied the sipping and supping. We left in a blissful food coma, all of us.

Fortunately, nothing more was expected of us than a drive to Swift Creek Mill Theater to see "Tomfoolery," a musical revue devoted to the satirical (and protest) songs of the brilliant and hilarious Tom Lehrer.

I mean, how can you not love a lyricist who writes a song about "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park?"

Or, in the grand tradition of woman singing songs about the man they love - no matter how antisocial, alcoholic, physically repulsive or just plain unsanitary, as he put it - Lehrer writes one from the man's point of view and it's a whole lot funnier.

Sharks gotta swim, bats gotta fly
I gotta love one woman till I die
To Ed or Dick or Bob
She may be just a slob
But to me, well, she's my girl

Just as funny was "When You Are Old and Gray, a song he dedicated to anyone still in love in the audience.

So say you love me here and now
I'll make the most of that
Say you love and trust me
For I know you'll disgust me
When you're old and getting fat

Listening to "The Masochism Tango," I couldn't help but think what an appropriate song it was for that most unromantic of womankind: Pru. Sure enough, the moment it ended, she looked at me and observed, "You know that's my song, right?"

I did indeed.

Your heart is hard as stone or mahogany
That's why I'm in such exquisite agony
My soul is on fire, it's aflame with desire
Which is why I prespire when we tango

"Smut" had the four talented actors holding Playboy and Playgirl magazines while singing about the pleasures of dirty books.

All books can be indecent books
Though recent books are bolder
For filth (I'm glad to say) is in
The mind of the beholder
When correctly viewed, everything is lewd

I left the theater wondering how I ever thought I'd lived a full life when I'd only ever heard one Tom Lehrer song before tonight. I was an innocent, little fool, that's for sure.

The remainder of my waking hours were spent on Pru's glorious screened porch, where she regaled us with stories about her parents' penchant for clothing-optional living and the friend from childhood who'd said she always thought of Pru's clan as "the naked family." The child can hardly be blamed for that, after all, how many of us have Dads who went streaking during thunderstorms? Or naked Moms who took phone calls in full view of the garbage men?

Around midnight, I got up to leave, only to be told to sit back down, so I did. This is not a group who wants the conversation stopped until everyone agrees it's over. At least I made it home before daybreak.

But I also went to bed a new fan of Tom Lehrer. Anyone who can write, "If a person feels he can't communicate, the least he can do is shut up about it," is my kind of guy.

Y'all know what I mean, I'm sure.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Blowing the Bloody Doors Off

I was utterly seduced at the Byrd by a 49-year old Brit.

No, no, it's not like that. That base is covered by my favorite cinephile, who'd agreed to join me for my first viewing of "The Italian Job," a 1969 movie I knew nothing about but couldn't wait to see. Not because it was a heist movie (rarely one of my favorite genres, though this was as much a comedy caper as heist film) but because I'm such a fan of '60s and '70s film.

And let me tell you, "The Italian Job" did nothing to dissuade me from my attraction to that era. That it was a British film only made it that much more appealing because that meant fewer Hollywood cliches. Need proof? Only one of the seven or so cars toppling over a cliff burst into flames.

What I love about films from those heady years is, well, everything. Sure, there was a young Michael Caine - okay, he was 36, but he looked impossibly young - but also a very old Noel Coward holding his own and a surprisingly fresh-faced Benny Hill eagerly ogling and fondling every large bottom he saw.

But it was more than casting.

A movie that opens with a man in a Lamborghini driving a winding road through the Alps in Italy is going to get my inner traveler sighing at for the sheer beauty of the scenery.

A movie scored by Quincy Jones can't help but keep my attention, from "On Days Like These," the romantic opening song to the hilarious cast singalong of "The Self Preservation Society" as the heist getaway winds down.

A movie about a bunch of young Brits stealing gold in Turin, Italy has several major fashion points going for it. Besides a listing in the credits for "shirtmaker," there's the killer Carnaby Street wardrobe of the Brits. So groovy.

You haven't seen 1969 fashion until you've seen Michael Caine in a leather vest and white ascot or a double-breasted suede jacket. And gloves, so many gloves, on both men and women. And you certainly never saw thieves like Caine's gang, all dressed in fitted blue jumpsuits (because we were all wearing jumpsuits back then) to pull off the job with style and panache.

Hell, even the Italian guy working the jackhammer had on a fitted shirt, flared pants and stylish black shoes, as if he had wooing plans right after work.

I got an inkling of the Mini connection in the lobby when we were getting popcorn before the movie even began. When I asked a guy I'd met at a Modern Richmond event why he'd come, he said he was part of the "Mini group." Sure enough, lined up out front on Cary Street was a line of Minis, a nod to the car's importance in the film.

Manager Todd told the audience beforehand that Fiat had offered to supply countless cars for filming purposes as well as underwrite $50,000 of the movie's production cost, but the filmmakers insisted that British thieves had to have British cars, Minis specifically.

The three Minis - a red, a white and a blue - did some major showing off over the course of the heist, from driving on the lip of a dam to driving the rooftop test track of a Fiat factory (I couldn't have been the only one gobsmacked that such a thing existed) to driving through a sewer tunnel. Hell, after the heist, each mini drove up ramps connected to a moving truck that was to be their hiding place.

It was perfectly clear why there had been damn good reason to alert local Mini drivers about the screening. And while I've never driven one, I know they had to be sitting up taller in their seats watching 1969 Minis put through their paces.

And when you get right down to it, the worst violence in "The Italian Job" was against cars. They were crunched up by machinery, sent flying off mountains and driven down steps in shopping arcades. Even when the Brits are taking the Italian gold, the worst they do to the security detail is hit them with billy clubs and spray paint their windows.

Tell me an American heist movie without guns, explosions or other gratuitous violence. Or, better yet, don't bother, because I have no intention of seeing it anyway.

Best of all, the movie ended without a neat Hollywood wrap-up. While the gang has the gold, they're also hanging off a cliff and unsure how to snag it without sending the bus over the mountain to suffer the same fate as the Lamborghini, the Minis and some Jaguars.

If you want to talk Meyer Briggs, I can assure you that to an ENFP such as myself, that lack of resolution is positively life-affirming. We don't need no stinkin' conclusion. What I do need is more '60s and '70s movies in my life.

Because on days like these, a movie with a miniskirt-clad woman climbing out of a sports car without opening the door is enough to give me a new life goal.

After all, anyone can drive a Mini.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Who's on First

Industry is in the eye of the beholder.

Sure, technically I'm not an actor or director and I don't design costumes, sound or light, but that didn't stop me from getting tickets for "Hand to God" at the Basement on Industry night. If anything, I chose this stormy Tuesday evening to see a co-production by TheatreLab and 5th Wall partly because I knew I'd see so many familiar stage faces in the audience.

And in my usual Luddite manner, I went to the see the 2015 Tony award-nominated best new play with absolutely no clue what it was about, nor any sense of how lewdly and furiously funny a dark comedy that includes puppet orgasms could be. Because, really, being a heathen and all, how could I not be sucked in by a play about a demonic puppet at a Lutheran bible school in Texas?

My J-boy and I walked over in a steady rain under a large umbrella, only to be told by artistic director Deejay Gray that he couldn't guarantee that the Basement wouldn't flood during tonight's performance because, "Well, it's a basement."

That's truth talk right there because I'd arrived home from Norfolk just as the second round of thunderstorms hit Jackson Ward and my basement was already under a couple inches of water. Still is.

From the front row, we had such an up close and personal view of the stage - set up to look like a church basement - that I didn't even need my glasses for most of it. Now that's proximity.

Looking at the set before the play began, I focused on the centerpiece of it, a puppet stage labeled "Christcateers," wondering what Jesus and sock puppets could possibly have in common. Meanwhile, the non-Christian next to me commented that the set confirmed every scary thought he'd ever had about church basements, although he guessed it was Catholic and I knew with certainty that it was Protestants of some sort.

I happen to know that Catholic church basements are a different kind of crazy.

And now I've learned that some crazy Protestants actually do use puppets as part of their Christian ministry, which only adds to a friend's religious dating theory (something about avoiding Protestant men because passion isn't their strong suit), and further solidifies my place in the heathen world.

"Hand to God" was riveting from the opening prologue of a green puppet sharing his thoughts on how mankind went from "rutting as we chose, careless in the night" to making rules about doing bad things, which included inventing the concept of the devil.

As a card-carrying heathen, I don't have to worry about that.

The entire cast was strong, none more so than Adam Turck as shy, insecure Jason, the unfortunate teen with Tyrone, the puppet, on his hand, who loudly and stridently voiced the evil puppet by biting off syllables, popping his every "p" and "t" and terrifying everyone around him. What fascinated me was that even though he mouthed Tyrone's words with no attempt to conceal where it was coming from, my eyes were glued to how convincing that puppet was every time he spoke.

That's right, I could have been looking at the actor dramatically saying Tyrone's lines but instead couldn't tear myself from watching a green sock with red hair inches from his face. This really wasn't your Sesame Street kind of puppet, though it was some top notch puppeteering.

What made a play about a demonic puppet so continuously laugh-out-loud funny was the dead serious nature of the topics covered in the story: sexual repression ("I don't want to be good anymore") and religious hypocrisy (a minister talking about his "needs" to a grieving widow), alcoholism and death, depression and repression.

But where it truly resonated was in its peek into the divided soul of Everyman, with its constant battle between good and evil. You don't even have to be a crazy Christian to know what I'm talking about.

Every member of the five person cast shone, from the confused and horny Margery assuredly and hilariously played by Kimberly Jones, to the surprisingly sexual confidence of quiet Jessica as portrayed by Anne Michelle Forbes. Adam Valentine, whose work I'd admired in "Heathers the Musical," again grabbed my attention playing the sullen Timothy with bravado, sardonic humor and in one scene, in his underwear. Fred Iacovo managed to transition from a skeevy minister hitting on Margery to the only one strong enough to stand up to the bastard puppet, no easy shift.

Which is all a long, rambling way of saying that I can't imagine a darker or more clever take on raw family dysfunction and religious hypocrisy, much less one where I was doubled over laughing so much.

As for all the screaming sex scenes - puppets as well as humans - well, bras coming off and skirts being pushed up were just icing on the industry night cake.

Damn, Richmond, your theater game is stellar.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Five and Counting

It would have made the AAA map guy furious.

I'm talking about the person whose job was to draw the yellow lines on Trip-tik road trip maps back in the day, a job that is surely now done on computer. The person whose sure handed, easy-to-read map made clear how to get to each of the destinations along your road trip.

Oh, sure, he'd be fine highlighting the Northern Neck-bound route from Jackson Ward to Morattico for a Reuben lunch with my parents, the Reuben part a holdover from Father''s Day when he'd wanted one and something else got planned for lunch.

That I showed up in a Cubs t-shirt tickled my mother no end.

And while they were waiting for us on the screened porch, you'd better believe Wimbledon was on in a nearby room. Mom takes her tennis watching seriously. Still, I was very surprised when she told me that not learning tennis was a sincere regret. Funny, I always attributed my lack of hand/eye coordination to her un-athletic DNA. Maybe not.

The Trip-tik guy might have let it slide that when we left Morattico, it was to retrace our steps to Warsaw to go to Menokin's speaker series to hear architect Reid Freeman. Why double back, you ask? For no other reason than I'm the kind of bon vivant who chooses to spend a gorgeous Friday afternoon being lectured to about early Tidewater building techniques. Yes, I am.

Or at least that had been the planned topic when the series was decided 6 months ago, but as Reid said, now it all tied back into the wood frame classroom they'd built on Menokin's 18th century grounds. In researching local house-framing techniques before building it, he'd been sucked down the rabbit hole of old, local frame buildings (like smokehouses and barber shops), information which had informed the building of the classroom.

But where he scored major points was toward the end of his two-hour talk when he implored us, "Now, just let me dork out for a minute here," and took off running down an architectural rabbit hole with a faraway smile on his face.

Surely the Trip-tik guy would have scratched his head when we left Warsaw for the Trick Dog Cafe in Irvington because by now our route resembled a backward "Z" or perhaps just scribble-scrabble. There's tuna tartare and obscenely rich she-crab soup, asparagus and grilled shrimp but a very small crowd. It's my first time, so I know not what to expect.

The next morning, the AAA guy would be further perplexed as he drew yet another yellow line, this one needing to be drawn from Irvington across the river at the Merry Point ferry back to River Road, less than 10 miles from my parents' house.

Even the trees were starting to look familiar at that point.

But I'd do a lot more than retrace routes to get to the yellow cottage on the Corrotoman to stay with the only couple I know who refer to their time apart between the two stages of their relationship as "the terrible awful."

The captain had already promised me a boat ride (never mentioning he had a new power boat) but then delivered three rides, including one to scope out the view from the river of the house we'd just left, a leisurely tour of the western branch (with all its new construction) and a sunset cruise on a glassy river.

He also grilled salmon for dinner while my girl crush made shrimp and grits (the latter unfamiliar to the native Chicagoan, though he loved them) and a cobbler with fresh peaches for dessert. The topic was how hungry everyone was after an exhausting day doing little more than sitting on a boat cutting through the water.

My Mom used to say that children never sleep or eat better than at the beach, and maybe the same applies to river time for adults. All I know is, the four of us didn't do much beyond eating, drinking and comparing notes on our backstories the entire time.

And when it all became too much, there was my favorite screened porch for sleeping.

Sunday was basically rinse and repeat, with more of the same plus a test drive in a fast car done by two men with an affinity for high RPMs and show tunes. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Sunday was the first time "Camelot" was being belted out from a speeding car in Bertrand.

When it came time to bid farewell to the happy couple, it was to head back to Irvington, but naturally not by the same route we'd come the day before because the ferry doesn't run on Sundays. So back we went, practically to my parents' house, before taking the long way back to Irvington.

At this point, AAA guy's yellow line has begun to resemble a line drawing of a shrimp or crawfish with its mouth open and there's just no way to tell what any of the routes are because they've crissrossed each other so many times.

A first-timer to the Northern Neck would have looked at that map and given up. I'm talking people like John and Sharon, the nice couple from Frederick, Maryland sitting behind us after the next leg of the journey took us from Irvington to Topping for dinner at Merroir. They were NNK virgins, having succumbed to an enticing Travelocity package (who knew that was a thing?) to celebrate his recent retirement.

They were celebrating with Rochambeau oysters while I had to have Old Salts to accompany Vino Verde (and commemorate our occasion), followed by ceviche, fish tacos and smoked cobia and arugula. The ritual pineapple upside down cake followed for dessert before we took the last of the wine down to the dock to watch dusk settling in while fish splashed in and out of the river.

Fortunately, the drive back to Irvington added no new lines to the map. Nevertheless, Trip-tik guy's head has exploded by now.

Even today's drive home further muddied the waters since we came back via West Point rather than Tappahannock, as we'd done on Friday. This was no carefully planned route, this was a map covered in intersecting and overlapping yellow lines as we tooled around Lancaster County for days.

Not to mention, had a perfectly marvelous time doing it. Let me dork out for a minute here and share my favorite assessments of this brave  new world I now occupy. I was compared to a three layer chocolate cake, for one, but it's hard to beat what the boat captain observed to the newcomer. "She's walking a whole lot lighter now."

Without a map, I might add. Take that, Trip-tik.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Pink Gooch is Different

It was throwback Thursday of a different kind.

First there was the Robinson Rose Crawl, which until it became unmanageable had been the Carytown Rose Crawl (and let me tell you, there are some stories there), and last year was abandoned entirely. But the power of Rose was too strong so a new crawl was devised, this one a seelf-guided tour instead of prior years when attendees were herded from bar to bar.

As someone who did herding duties several of those years, let me assure you that it's far better to let those on a pink mission set their own pace.

Mac and I began at Secco with dozens of other pink-clad people, she with Roquefort "Corail" Rose and moi with Raventos i Blanc Brut Rosat "De Nit" (I'm trying to think SPanish for the foreseeable future) to accompany a plate of season house pickled vegetables. I would have said that the beets were the tastiest morsels on the plate, at least until I tasted the asparagus which had been sweet pickled like bread and butter pickles, but there was also a lot to be said for the fiery pickled mushrooms, so let's just say they were all stellar and leave it at that.

I got my Rose passport stamped, our photograph was taken for the crawl memory book and we ceded our seats to a couple of women who'd just walked in. You never saw two people so happy to see us leave.

Walking down Robinson, we passed clutches of pink-wearing men and women, all seeming to be in high spirits. Arriving at Acacia, we were led to our table on the patio by the chef's son (also in a pink shirt) who already had the poise of a long-time host. It was a gorgeous evening to be dining outside, not to mention the bird's eye view it provided of the overgrown herb planter (so much mint gone to seed that Mac resolved to return with her clippers and give that mint a haircut) and the roving bands of Rose crawlers.

We toasted the crawl and the weather with glasses of Mimi Sparkling Rose from Provence (Mimi being Mac's nickname to her nephews) while chatting with the two overly tan and obviously high maintenance women from Goochland seated next to us. They'd been to Helen's and found both the Roses they'd ordered lacking, so they'd moved on.

When they found out we were going to see "A Chorus Line" after the crawl, they were fascinated.
Turns out Goochlanders have no clue that Richmond boasts a vibrant theater scene. "If I'd known I could go to a play, I could have planned to attend since I have a designated driver!" one exclaimed. Frankly, she didn't strike me like the play-going type, but at least she pretended.

It was our server's first night and a chaotic one at that, so we got our orders in quickly. Mac chose Peruvian tuna ceviche while I couldn't resist the redneck crabcake, a rich cake of whitefish and Old Bay with a side salad of pickled cucumber and red onion, accompanied by a glass of Paul D. Rose from Austria.

We wound up lingering so long we had no time for the other stops - Cask, Spoonbread and Helen's - before planting our butts at Richmond Triangle Players. It was Mac's first viewing after I'd raved about how RTP had pulled off 17 dancers on that stage with aplomb and grace.

At intermission, she started her own gushing about what an incredible production it was. Standing in line at the ladies' room, a woman behind me notes of the first act, "It's tough not to get up and dance. I was chair dancing so hard!"

Honey, join the club.

Another makes an observation about the dancer affectionately referred to as "Headband Boy" for his long hair, cheesy mustache and, yes, headband, "He's every guy in 1972." Tell me something I don't know.

Those two things alone - dancing and 1972 guys - are more than enough to require repeat viewings of such a fine production of "A Chorus Line." But when preceded by Rose crawling with the best walker I know, well, it's one singular sensation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Raining on the Hard Conversations

Heat lightening gave way to a hard rain falling, just as I got home, the soothing sounds of rain just what I needed.

Mac and I had both brought umbrellas (the newsworthy part of that being that she'd remembered hers for a change) when we walked over to the ICA for this month's installment of their film series. And what a compelling choice it was: "Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland."

Unlike last month when we'd foolishly shown up without tickets (lesson learned), we not only had ours but also an extra one (because of someone's illness) which we donated back to the cause before going inside to claim second row seats.

The attendant at the door had told us early arrivals to sit at the far ends of the rows, but no one listened. As the couple next to me pointed out, "Why should we take the bad seats when we were the ones here on time?" I couldn't have said it better myself.

The screening was especially poignant because yesterday was the third anniversary of Bland's arrest after a minor traffic stop and tragically, Friday is the three year anniversary of when she was found hanging from a plastic trash bag noose (curiously without a single fingerprint on it) in her Waller County, Texas jail cell. A death labeled suicide.

Although I'm not one to watch police shooting videos, because Sandra Bland had not been shot, I'd actually seen some of the dash-cam footage from her traffic stop online back when it happened. But the documentary included far more of that footage than I'd seen before and almost all of it was highly disturbing, including how the cop deliberately moved Sandra out of the camera's range once he began assaulting her.

The counterpoint to the violence was all the clips we saw of "Sandy Speaks," a video series she'd done to share her thoughts online about race relations (unite, not incite), policing and the need for blacks and whites to have more friends of other races, a series that highlighted her activism goals but also her desire for all people to get along.

Given that it had happened in Texas, it was all I could do to watch the scenes where local law enforcement and the district attorney's office - good ol' boys, all of them -  tried to place all blame on Sandra and eventually, her family.

As always when leaning into the difficult conversations about race, Mac and I were left feeling emotionally exhausted when the lights came up. "I should've known to bring tissues," she told me. Honestly, there aren't enough tissues to absorb the tears of what happened to this determined 28-year old who was just driving to the grocery store.

After the film ended, the entire room took a moment o say Sandra Bland's name out loud before a few moments of silence to honor her.

Afrikana Film Festival creative director Enjoli had seen the film at the Tribeca Film Festival and managed to arrange an exclusive screening tonight ahead of its Fall theater release and presentation on HBO. But I'd have to say that the real coup was in bringing so many of the people shown in the film to the post-screening discussion.

Bland's mother and two of her sisters were there, along with the family's lawyer and the film's writer/director. It was moving to hear the people we'd just seen on camera talking about Sandra, the questions still unanswered about the case and their hopes for her legacy.

Director David Heilbroner wasn't the least bit shy about stating that whether she committed suicide or not, her death was a lynching based on the state of race relations and policing in this country. Sadly, there's a lot of truth in that assertion.

Had I been pulled over for failing to signal, I'd be willing to bet the farm I wouldn't be slapped, threatened, tasered, yanked from the car or knelt on top of by a cop, much less dragged off to jail.

That's some galling white privilege right there.

During the Q & A period, some people used their moment with a microphone to ask questions that couldn't be answered and belabor points already made, while others echoed their fears about something similar happening to them or their loved ones. Everyone seemed to agree that major retraining of police officers in de-escalation is essential.

But the most important thing was that we were a roomful of black and white Richmonders having a meaningful conversation about race disparity and how each of us needs to work on our own small solution to that, regardless of what others may be doing.

If Sandra Bland's legacy becomes uniting rather than inciting, maybe her death won't be in vain. Saying her name so she isn't forgotten feels like the first step.