Sunday, October 18, 2015

An Afternoon of Woe

I sold Eliza down the river for history and tragedy.

It wasn't that I didn't want to see the 50th anniversary restored print of "My Fair Lady," I did, but I couldn't justify passing up the funniest park ranger ever or an abridged teenage love story for it.

And, just for the record, I did see a movie (several, actually), improbably enough of the Civil War.

Ranger Mike Gorman - one part photography geek, one part dedicated historian and one part stand-up comedian - was giving a talk and slide show entitled "Richmond, 1865." If, like me, you'd attended "Richmond, 1864," you knew there was no funnier or more informative way to spend an hour without alcohol.

What I love about his presentations is that he does all the work while the audience reaps all the fascinating results.

Leading us on a virtual tour of the city using photographs, he zooms in, blows up and points out minute details an amateur like me would never notice otherwise.

So he's showing us a picture of the laboratory buildings on Belle Isle (and by laboratory, he means girls and women stuffing gun powder in things to be shot) and then zooms in on the far distance where we can clearly see Monroe's tomb in Hollywood Cemetery a mile away.

Like a twisted scientist, he says thing like, "Look, I'll blow that up again. Because I can," and then gives an evil chuckle. Hilarious. Or, about staging photographs back then, "They faked a shot? Of course they did!"

But I also learn so much at his talks, like when he showed us the Gallego flour mills, the largest in the world at the time, and shares that they were 15 stories high in an era when reinforced steel was unknown. Or a photograph of Union graves on Belle Isle when I'd had no clue that had ever been the case.

It wouldn't be a Gorman talk without the picture of NDH - that's "nasty, dead horse" for Gorman virgins - floating in the canal, which he turns into a "movie" by combining it with another view of NDH.

Shots of Lee once he returned to Richmond were taken behind his house on the day Lincoln died and intended to send a message that the war was over.Time to move on, rebels.

One seated shot exposed what Gorman called a "big male no-no," white socks with black shoes. Scratched on the negative was "do not use" because fashion faux pas don't become a losing general apparently. Showing a detail of a standing shot, he showed us graffiti on Lee's house: the word "devil" scratched on a brick behind him.

See? Richmond's tagging problem can't be blamed on VCU students. It goes back to the Civil War.

The presentation ended on a particularly amusing shot of ships in the river, which, once he blew up a detail, showed a man standing naked in the water. "Expose yourself to history," Mike had written across the man's twigs and berries.

With pleasure, as long as it's history cheerleader Mike Gorman doing the exposing.

My exposure to literature, which followed, wasn't nearly as amusing, but it was awfully succinct.

Quill Theater had invited the public to come watch their final dress rehearsal of their 55-minute, six actor touring production of "Romeo and Juliet" at Shafer Street Playhouse.

I don't think I could have invented a good enough reason not to watch love's heavy burden sink a couple of teenagers.

Bonus: I can't help but appreciate a production of "Romeo and Juliet" where the actors playing the leads seem young enough to be believable.

And it never hurts a tragedy to have its light moments courtesy of John Mincks playing a woman, in this case, Juliet's nurse (the cap alone was pure gold). Or, especially for middle and high school audiences, the superb diction of someone like David Janosik or Audra Honaker playing so many roles and making the language accessible to all.

Although I'm far from the target audience for this kind of production - feel free to use every last word of Shakespeare's text and I promise I won't get bored if it's well acted - it was fun watching the classic story unfold in record time.

"The Compleat Works of Wm. Shakespeare, Abridged" aside, the only briefer Shakespeare I ever saw was an acting class' ten-minute version of "Hamlet" that had the audience in hysterics when the Queen said, "I am poisoned," and tossed her cup to the floor pronto.

But today's "Romeo and Juliet" did accomplish one lovely thing and that was deliver nearly an hour of talented actors reciting some of the most romantic lines in the English language.

Oh, she teaches the torches to burn bright.

And no amount of dancing all night can compare to that.

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