Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Little Sugar in my Bowl

I woke up happy this morning.

You have to love a morning when a guy asks, "Will you marry me today?"

Granted, I didn't know him and I was walking down the street when he said, it, but I take my proposals where ever they come from.

Tonight I took my evening right here in Jackson Ward at the Hippodrome Theater.

The founders of the Firehouse Theater Project were presenting a celebration of (almost) 20 years of provocative Richmond theater and as a long-time Firehouse supporter and theater lover, how better to spend a Tuesday night?

Pru joined me for what turned out to be a big, old party interspersed with songs and scenes from former FTP productions.

The bar was mobbed when we arrived, so we patiently waited our turn before heading to the food table for spicy crabcakes, meatballs and, my favorite, mini-chicken and waffles.

A guy in the buffet line told me he'd never heard of the classic sweet and salty shift meal, so I gave him a brief history as we scooped up food.

I saw lots of familiar faces - the beer and theater loving couple, the Listening Room alum as excited as I am about the upcoming show at the Michaux House, even said hi to Carol Piersol herself, the reason for tonight's celebration.

We took seats in the second row, behind the all-important founders who were in the front row and did our mingling from there.

The show began with host Eva asking for those who'd performed at FTP to clap (lots of applause). Then for those who'd attended an FTP production to clap (even more applause).

Then she asked those who've gone in to Lowe's to use the bathroom to clap and that got the largest applause of all.

Appropriately, the first performer was Scott Wichmann, doing a song from "Bat Boy," the first musical FTP ever did, and setting the bar very high.

We saw a very funny scene from Harry the Hat's "Persistence of Memory," about one of the Reynolds' execs trying to get Salvador Dali (complete with lobster phone) to create a statue out of aluminum for Monument Avenue back in the '60s.

True story.

A scene from David Mamet's "Businessmen" seemed an especially good choice given that tonight's show was a benefit for Carol Piersol's upcoming production of Mamet's "Race."

Desiree Roots killed it during a rendition of  "I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl," from "The Death of Bessie Smith," one of two Edward Albee shows we saw tonight.

Tired of bein' lonely, tired of bein' blue
Wished I had some good man to tell my troubles to

The audience was testifying right along with her.

More Mamet came courtesy of the classic "Glengarry Glen Ross" with d.l. Hopkins effortlessly tossing off lines like, "This place gets robbed, they'll come looking for me. Why? Because I probably did it."

Jacob Pennington broke my heart with a scene from "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," about his beagle Snoopy being put to sleep after killing Woodstock.

I can handle many things, but not dead beagle scenes. For me, it'll always be too soon for that.

Matt Shofner brought everybody back up, though with an hysterical and well done version of "Suppertime" ("the very best time of the day," he sang. Amen to that) from "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Man, can that boy sing, as if I didn't already know that from the Ghost Light afterparty.

Sam Shepard's "Curse of the Starving Class" was typical Shepard-like bleak, involving jail, a lamb and an actor in his boxers.

In a related note, host Eva then came out in a nude body stocking, complete with an abundant pubic hair wig. aimlessly twirling strands of hair around her finger as she said, "The Firehouse has never shied away from nudity onstage."

Harry "The Hat" Kollatz spoke next, brilliantly telling the saga of a 1998 FTP production.

Recalling executive director Carol calling him for help, he admitted to wondering why.

"I am the Chauncey Gardiner of this outfit. I have no practical skills," he said, cracking up the entire room.

His story ended up being about how the 100+-year firehouse had been purchased through the generosity of unexpected benefactors.

Katrinah Carol Lewis did "Out Tonight" from "Rent," a show Harry had said could have run forever it was so well-received.

Let's go out tonight
I have to go out tonight
You wanna play?
Let's run away
We won't be back before it's New Year's Day
Take me out tonight

The scene from "Four Dogs and a Bone" had an actress coming on to a writer, resulting in lines like, "I used to be romantic before I joined the writers' guild."

John Patrick Shanley's play was full of stellar lines. "I can't even tell you're drunk except by what you say.

Even better, "I hope I remember this conversation in the morning, not the gist of it, but the details."

Scott came back to do a song he'd planned to do at FTP's 2008 cabaret but which had not made the cut.

"Entering Marion" was ostensibly a travel song except he kept entering towns with girls' names, eventually becoming the kind of trampy traveler who entered places like Lawrence and Lowell before regretting it later at the motel.

His performance was terrifically nuanced, right down to hand gestures of shifting gears in the car.

Watching "Eurydice," it was striking how spot on the cast was.

The guy next to me leaned in and observed, "It's amazing, they're doing these roles years after they originally did and not overacting a bit. That's quite an accomplishment."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Desiree Roots' medley from "Dessa Rose" was so big-voiced and moving that I saw a few people wiping tears away by the end of it.

I recall seeing the second Albee play of the evening, "The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia?" but you never really forget a play about a man having an affair with a goat, do you?

The show ended with the inimitable Matt coming back out, this time with a long, blond wig, full face makeup and open-toed pumps on.

As soon as I saw him, I remembered the other night at the Ghost Light, host Maggie had come onstage with a bulging bag, saying to Matt, "Here, you said to bring your wigs."

Now I knew why.

With scene-stealing know-how, he sang "Midnight Radio" from "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," prancing around the stage, his big voice reaching to the rafters.

By the time he got to the chorus ending of "Lift up your hands, lift up your hands," people in the crowd led by a glowing Carol, were doing just that and a procession began of people dancing toward the stage, all arms in the air.

You know you're doing alright
So hold on to each other
You gotta hold on tonight

Watching a roomful of theater performers and theater lovers gather together to celebrate a company that changed the Richmond theater scene for the better was mighty impressive.

I hope I remember this performance, not just in the morning, but years from now, and not the gist of it, but the details.

Truly, it was a lovely thing to behold.


  1. Your words have a brand! I was just reading the Style review of Viceroy, and thought to myself, this sounds like Karen wrote it. Finished the article and scrolled up, and YUP! Sounds great. Will need to check it out.

    I hope all is well with you with much love, life and happiness!

  2. I'm immensely flattered, Adam, that you recognized my 'voice'!

    All is very well with me with lots of all of the above. It's so great to hear from you!