Saturday, February 18, 2012

February: Richmond City

When you want to see a Pulitzer Prize-winning play in Jackson Ward, you just walk a couple of blocks up and over.

Or across the street, depending on where you live.

And voila, you find yourself in front of the lovelier-all-the-time Empire Theater, which houses Theater Gym.

Where, it just so happens, Cadence Theater Company is doing the Tony Award-winning "August:  Osage County,"

An usher shows us to our seats, me on one side of the aisle and my companion on the other side.

I sit down next to a man who is alone. He looks at me, looks across the aisle at my partner-in-crime and says to him, "Get over here! What's wrong with you?"

He does, they switch seats and a play about the mother of all dysfunctional families unfolds.

Literary references feed this reader's soul; the play begins with a discussion of T.S. Elliott.and later a character tells someone, "Don't get all Carson McCullers on me."

Dialog about shades of a word's meaning (ironic versus incongruous) stokes the fires of the language-obsessed.

I am both.

It soon becomes clear why this play got noticed immediately. The dialog is fast and true and there are vices of every kind on display.

"There's something to be said for alcohol," a sister says. "But not much."

It's a dark comedy with bitterness throughout ("Marriage is a cruel covenant") that takes place in Oklahoma, which is also considered a state of mind ("I got the Plains").

When the three sisters sit around getting drunk, they try to figure out why everyone makes such a big deal about their parents' generation.

"Greatest generation, my ass," the oldest says. "Just because they were poor and hated Nazis?"

As if having a top-notch piece of new theater to show Richmond wasn't enough, the up and coming Cadence Theater Company assembled an excellent cast, utilizing some of RVA's best actors.

They spit and yell and throw things and generally act like dysfunctional people might act.

Everyone's lives are messed up, falling apart or based on lies and eventually even that is acknowledged as that awful place "in the middle...where everything lives."

Oh, yes, that depressing place. I try to steer clear of it.

During one of the two intermissions during the three-hour play (which never for a moment lagged or felt anywhere near as long as three hours), a woman coming up the aisle nearly joins my companion in his seat.

Picking herself up, she says to him, "I got distracted by her fun tights. Sorry, I almost fell into your lap."

He now sees me as an asset who can deliver women into his seat with him.

The play continues and I can relate when a character says about her mother that she "Doesn't believe in air conditioning. Like it's something you believe in."

Just for the record, I don't believe in it, either.

The third act brings even more drinking, sex and arguing, with the actors inhabiting the characters so completely that you feel like the sister Barbara who mistakenly walks in on a private and painful conversation and can't move to escape hearing it.

When the lights finally came up at the end, the crowd was on its feet for what we'd just seen.

You know, just another night of exquistely exiting theater in J-Ward.

Feel free to stop by if there's no Pulitzer-winning play in your own neighborhood.

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