Saturday, January 19, 2013

Buy Less, See More, Eat Anything

All I'm shooting for is to be a better person. That's all.

But I'm a lousy consumer, I've got no faith and I say yes to blood.

So, yea, it was just another Friday night.

First up was the opening of Brian Ulrich's shows, "Copia" and "Closeout" at the mobbed Anderson Gallery.

(sniff) Wasn't it just a few weeks ago when we were all reveling in unlimited parking and the absence of students when, wham, bam, thank you ma'am, they're back and looking earnest and trying to understand photographs from the mid-20th century?

The show was a fascinating look at our culture of consumerism, from surreptitious photos taken in big box stores to posed thrift stores shots to vintage photographs of people during the Great Prosperity.

While the photographs taken since 9/11 had an uneasy familiarity, not to mention over-saturated colors, the pre-1970 black and white photos had a dense sense of texture and tone that gave them a rich look no longer attainable with a digital camera.

And while the show raises all sorts of questions about how we buy and why, I can rest assured that my infrequent trips to the thrift store have little in common with the desire to own more of the latest and greatest.

From the VCU campus, it was but a short trip to exchange the artsy student crowd for the rabid theater crowd for the Acts of Faith Festival preview.

Walking into the November Theater, a concession stand host called out that the orchestra seating was full, so to head upstairs to the balcony.

Once comfortably ensconced in the front row of said balcony, a look down confirmed that there were still plenty of available seats downstairs.

The couple who sat down next to me mentioned the same thing.

Then he said, "I'm not sure I've been here since I saw John McCutcheon here 25 years ago."

Well, my dear sir, then you aren't getting out enough.

The Reverend Alex Evans began the evening by welcoming us to the 9th year of the Acts of Faith Festival and then doing a roll call of all the church groups represented tonight.

Each one clapped and hooted to show their presence, but since he didn't call out a category for "heathen," i had no opportunity to clap or hoot.

Let's not leave out the faithless, Reverend.

We have lack of faith and surely that's part of the festival, too.

From there, we were off and running with a preview of the 18 plays that will comprise the festival.

Some had casts to do a scene (Henley Street's "Faith Healer"), some had films or stills because the show was already in production tonight (Virginia Rep's Children Theater's "Magic Flute) and some had key people talking about the play-to-come concerning bright young things (Noel Coward's "Hay Fever").

A couple had full musical numbers (Hanover Tavern and "Breast in Show"), one taught us an Arabic greeting (For Our Children Productions), and one began with the reliably amusing Evan Nasteff dressed circa 1984 as an announcer (Cadence's "Sons of the Prophet").

Not surprisingly, the announcement and arrival of Carol Piersol (formerly of the beleaguered Firehouse Theater Company) got a standing ovation from the theater-savvy in the room.

The little company that could (TheaterLab) did a rousing scene from "Riding the Bull," with two Ghostlight Afterparty regulars, Deejay Gray and Maggie Boop.

Richmond Shakespeare performed an act of faith when they had an actor do a monologue from "The Tempest" when rehearsals don't even start until next week.

It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Friends of Dogwood Dell are now doing a winter season and the talented Todd Schall-Vass was part of the cast for "ECCE."

Richmond Triangle Players had one of the best lines ("The 1970s have a great deal to answer for") and the always-hilarious Chris Hester as a manchild in porcupine-land.

All in all, it was a satisfying look at the plays that will provide the community talkbacks about all kinds of issues of faith for the next couple of months.

As someone pointed out, national theater performance groups are looking at our model of how the faith and theater communities can work together annually to engage the community in meaningful conversation about important issues.

So, yea, we're pretty cool. Even the heathen part of the audience, I might add.

But here's the dilemma.

Say we've evolved to where Richmond has a vibrant scene, where on any given Friday night, a person can go to a compelling art opening followed by a theater preview and when she walks out at 10:15, she's yet to have dinner.

Where in this happening city can a person go have something more than bar food, something as interesting as the art and theater she's seen tonight?

This person decided on Belmont Food Shop, knowing that they have a late night cook's menu that offers no choices and impressive offerings.

I slid in next to a couple discussing music with a musician next to them and was immediately at home.

The  wine list yielded up Negroamaro Corte Salice Salentino Riserva, which the barkeep promised would deliver "black and bitter," as fitting a match for whatever was going to come out on the cook's plate as I could hope for.

Meanwhile, the pleasantly chatty couple ("You look familiar," she said, leaning in. "Are you a singer?" Ha! It is to laugh) next to me were sharing desserts and ordering after-dinner drinks and coffee.

The bartender made up a drink to accompany her French silk pie and after one taste of the amaretto/elderflower/bubbly concoction, she noted, "Well, that'll make me a better person."

What more could a person ask of a drink?

My cook's plate arrived and it was magnificent: chicken leg confit with frisee, radishes with butter, sliced lamb heart with pickled okra and pickled onion and blood sausage cake with a fried quail egg atop it. Oh, yes, and wedges of bread.

There may be people who would turn up their nose at this array of offbeat and offal, but I was thrilled and dove in like I hadn't eaten since afternoon (I hadn't).

I think it's brilliant for Belmont to offer a safe menu for evening dining and to pull out the interesting stuff for late night adventurous types.

Hell, I don't even care what's on the plate because the kitchen is so adept at deciding what to offer.

My bar companions asked me where I liked to go for music, acting like they'd hit the jackpot when I began over-sharing my favorite haunts and why.

More black and bitter followed to accompany a chocolate truffle and some candied orange peel, the latest sweet offerings from a kitchen that always seems to be trying something new.

Sitting there finishing my Italian wine, listening to music from the '20s, with the bartender singing along to "Ain't Misbehaving," the server and I got in a discussion of the pleasures of green Chartreuse.

I told her of an impossibly hot, humid summer night on nearby Floyd Avenue with a a handful of overheated friends and a bottle of Chartreuse that was still memorable fifteen years later.

"Wow, yea, I'll have to try that," she said, clearly intrigued by my story of misbehaving, no ain't about it.

It should make her a better person. Or, at the very least, a heathen.

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