Friday, March 4, 2016

At Rainbow's End

Alcohol won't solve all your problems, but neither will milk. ~ sign outside Bellytimber

Culture won't make you more lovable, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

After nearly getting creamed by an excavator-like contraption speeding through a red light - the driver and I actually locked eyes when he realized his error - I took deep breaths all the way to the Branch Museum for a lecture.

Waiting for a friend to arrive and the talk to begin, I eavesdropped on a conversation about Richmond's neighborhoods between a newer arrival and a born-here (bow tie = dead giveaway).

The guy being asked mentioned how he lives on Monument Avenue and when they moved in, they met a woman two houses down who'd lived on that block for 91 years, making her a walking encyclopedia of information about the 'hood (assuming you can call Monument Avenue a 'hood).

I especially loved hearing her reminisces of playing croquet on the grass on the south side of Monument, while what he called "essentially a wagon trail" ran on the north side of the street. Needless to say, there was no median strip yet.

My friend arrived moments before curator Brian Grogan of the Historic American Buildings Survey began talking about the project's New Deal roots in 1937, intended to put out-of-work architects, draftsmen and photographers to work.

Just the thought of government caring about such things warms my heart.

Similarly, in 1968 the Historic American Engineering Record was started to document feats of engineering like the Memorial Bridge in D.C., which is the first image Brian showed, hardly surprising given the news I'd read just this morning in the Post.

That bridge is in such dire shape that unless it's completely overhauled (a traffic nightmare to even imagine), within five years. it'll be relegated to footbridge status only. Seeing Brogan's photo from the 1970s only served to reinforce what a gorgeous piece of engineering it was.

But here's the real surprise: that was originally a drawbridge. I'm a native Washingtonian who's used that bridge more than any other to get in and out of the city all my life and this was completely new information to me. Apparently the opening section was cantankerous from the start and eventually locked open, resulting in repeated repairs and sealing the draw span for good.

I am still agog at this piece of newly unearthed Washington history.

Once the lecture ended, we had less than 35 minutes to eat and make it to the theater for part two of the evening. The only thing we could figure that would fill the need for speed was to drive together and grab a Chinese snack along the way, so we stopped to slurp soup and gobble egg rolls and were out the door in 20 minutes.

We easily made the curtain at Firehouse Theater for Heritage Ensemble Theatre Company's production of "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf," a play I'd been aware of for decades yet never seen.

Sometimes the holes in my cultural literacy are big enough to drive construction equipment through.

That said, my friend and I were blown away by the 1976 story of seven nameless women trying to find their place in a racist, sexist world and using each other as sounding boards for what's going on in their lives through a series of poems, dances and music.

With no assistance from you, I have loved you strongly and passionately for 8 months, 2 weeks and a day.

In some ways, the play felt very much of the '70s in how it articulated women's issues, but many of those issues - domestic violence, abortion, rape by men you know - resonated just as strongly forty years later.

I couldn't stand by and be colored and sorry at the same time. It's so redundant in the modern world.

It was an incredibly strong cast, each woman nailing a different character's strengths and weaknesses, with music and dancing throughout (is any song quite as feel good as "Dancing in the Streets"?), creating a sisterhood that they could all lean on when needed.

My love is too complicated/delicate/beautiful/Saturday night/magic - to have thrown back in my face.

But the scene that had the audience doubled over in laughter was about all the apologies men have made to these women, each one standing to imitate her man and his lame excuses for letting her down again. No matter the excuse, it was relatable whether personally or tangentially through stories women share.

The funniest part was that the few men in the audience weren't laughing nearly as hard as the women were.

As strongly as that poem had moved us, another about Beau Willie Brown brought many in the the audience to tears, including actress Margarette Joyner who told the story so powerfully the audience forgot it was artifice and reacted viscerally to the heartbreaking story.

All I can say is, Heritage is a young theater company, but if this production is any indication, they'll be a force to be reckoned with in the theater community.

The tight ensemble piece we saw tonight was nothing short of transformative, like listening to jazz pros and never quite being sure where the next note will take you but knowing you want to - no, need to - hear it.

For me, it was equal parts complicated, delicate, beautiful and magic. Maybe even a little Saturday night.

Sort of like like love and sisterhood.

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