Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why We're Friends

Three women, two of whom have never met, walk into a bar.

Two hours later, they know more about each other's lives than some men know about their girlfriends. Comedy or tragedy?

After our last planned date got snowed out, a friend I met last summer but hadn't seen since the State Fair suggested she kill two birds with one stone. That meant meeting two friends for one dinner and I was one of them.

Over happy hour at the Mill, I got to know her friend as we talked about heavy stuff: mortality, life's wake-up calls and emergency room visits. Turns out we were all born within three weeks of each other, so perhaps that accounted for some of the compatibility. That or the 9-ounce wine pours.

Both enjoyed the house BLT while lamenting that we're not yet to tomato season while I tried the avocado halves stuffed with grilled shrimp and corn salsa (alas, no fresh corn in that salsa, either). More mindful than some of us, they declined dessert while I happily lapped up a bowl of Bev's double chocolate ice cream.

Just supporting the local, that's all.

I left them peering in windows on MacArthur Boulevard while I made my way back to Jackson Ward and the Hippodrome Theater.

Tonight was 5th Wall's second annual preview and party fundraiser and knowing how much fun I'd had at it last year, I didn't want to be late. My date, though still pining for Pru in Paris, was dutifully awaiting my arrival out front.

Inside, we found our names on a table near the stage with a great vantage point for the entertainment.

Our host was Eva DeVirgilis dressed as the emcee from "Cabaret" and she greeted us with "Willkommen," and was eventually joined by the company.

Eva revels in being bossy and wasted no time mentioning the silent auction, saying, "Go ahead and show off and buy something for your lover." I sure wouldn't have minded someone buying a massage or weekend getaway for me. As luck would have it, no lovers were present.

From there, the audience was treated to a series of musical numbers and scenes from 5th Wall productions past and present.

Always guaranteed to hit it out of the park, Matt Shofner killed it with "Hitchhiking Across America," holding up a cardboard sign ("I like boys!") midway through the song about meeting guys on the road. Behind me, I heard a woman sigh, saying, "He's sooo good!" Yes, he is.

After the song, he took a bow, grabbed the sign held it up again and pointed at it, just in case any nice potential husbands in the audience had missed the point.

Our hostess Eva encouraged us to check our programs for information about what we were seeing. "And if you want to know about any of the performers, buy 'em a drink!" Works for writers, too, by the way.

A scene from "H2O" reminded me how powerful and thought-provoking that play had been.

Brittany Simmons used her big voice and best comedic powers to sing "I Could Be Jewish for You," getting belly laughs from the Jewish friend behind me.

Seeing the incredibly strong cast of "The Lyons" do a scene (even without Jacqueline Jones' magnificent red wig) was further proof of what a superb production that had been, while seeing a snippet of "Human Terrain" made me regret having been too busy to see it.

Much as I enjoyed seeing scenes from plays I'd liked so much, it was even cooler seeing previews from upcoming productions.

"Uncanny Valley" was described as a play about two humans and a robot ("In our mind's eye, we are forever young"), but most interesting was when my date, a certifiable technology nerd, explained that uncanny valley described the discomfort humans feel when faced with a human-like (but not human) creation.

Had I gone to the preview alone, I'd never have known that factoid. Pays to have friends who date smart men.

During intermission, the Hatted Man About Town dropped by to chat. When I explained that I had my date by default because his beloved was in Paris, the hatted one pulled from his wealth of knowledge to inform us that both Paris (the original walled city, at least) and Richmond are approximately 60 square miles.

"It's all about density," he explained, setting off some pretty funny riffing on the pleasures of density.

Mid-laughter, a man approached the table and addressed the hatted one. "Hi, we're friends on Facebook but we've never met." My night was made when the hat responded, "Then why are we friends?"

As one who refuses to accept a friend request from people I don't know in real life, it was a question after my own heart and pretty hilarious to boot.

We left him with his new friend to peruse the silent auction items and bid where appropriate before intermission ended.

The second act began memorably. "We're fine with you masturbating, Gerard," Melissa Johnston Price said to major laughter in a scene from the upcoming "Body Awareness," which looks fierce ("You're 55 and you've never read "Crime and Punishment!").

Mental note: see this play.

Desiree Roots did the classic "My Funny Valentine" off of her latest album, "Don't Ever Stop Dreaming," wowing the crowd with her beautiful voice while Carl Lester dazzled on jazz guitar.

It looks like we'll get another provocative Israel Horovitz play this season, "Unexpected Tenderness," an impassioned look at the anger-driven patriarch of a family with some impressive acting talent.

Artistic director Carol Piersol took the stage in sequins, raving about the past year being the best ever for a theater company's first year, a fact verified by anyone who'd been in the audience. You know, like me.

The final portion of the evening was left in the capable red finger-nailed hands of Miss Georgia Rogers Farmer, the blond queen of sass and sweetness. Or, as she put it, "I'm slutty, I'm a domestic goddess and a teacher. I hope you can learn a few things tonight." Oh, yes, and a big red flower tucked behind her ear. Classic.

That meant she began with a song about the wonders of not eating meat that segued into a brassy interlude about the pleasures of bacon ("fried heaven in a pan") and being willing to wring a pig's neck to get it.

"I told myself I wouldn't make anything for tonight, but I couldn't help myself," she explained, handing out to the audience two trays of chocolate-covered bacon for us to pass around. "If there's any left, my seat is right over there," she said pointing.

There wasn't.

I considered myself lucky when she did the '30s classic, "I Only Have Eyes for You," a personal favorite that was followed by "Sing for Your Supper" with stellar back-up by Carolyn Meade and Katrinah Carol-Lewis, all clad in feathered headbands with birds attached.

But the real gem, the number that had to be seen to be believed, was her version of the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow," complete with grinding, booty shaking and memorable lyrics such as, "Shittin' on y'all, you with the boom boom."

The evening got its final pop with the entire company doing Sondheim's "Old Friend," a tribute to the power of the people in the room, most of whom were Firehouse Theater supporters who followed Carol Piersol and BC Maupin on their inspired path to create 5th Wall.

Most friends fade
or they don't make the grade
New ones are quickly made
and in a pinch, sure, they'll do
But us old friends
what's to discuss, old friend?
Here's to us
Who's like us?
Damn few

Fortunately, there's far more than a damn few rooting for another outstanding season of 5th Wall productions.

So what happens when a woman walks into a bar to meet a fairly new friend and a brand new friend and then walks into a theater to meet another fairly new friend?

There's lots to discuss. Here's to us.

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