Sunday, February 5, 2017

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Cut to the chase: Four diamonds led to onstage vomiting and ended with a fairy and jazz.

Long version: It's probably a good thing that we already had reservations at Shagbark for Saturday night given the four diamond rating AAA bestowed on them last week.

Even with a ridiculously early reservation, our table was back in one of the private dining rooms rather than the main one, no skin off my nose since it also meant we got the locally hand-crafted dinnerware and fewer soul-less West End types at the tables surrounding us.

Being first in the dining room meant that the soundtrack was easy to hear and while some people might enjoy - even sing along to - the Little River Band's "Lonesome Loser," I'm not one of them, although they could have continued playing the Spinners and Earth, Wind and Fire all night as far as I was concerned.

"Good tune-age," my friend commented, albeit after a Billy Joel song. To each, his own.

To try to help us forget that we were at a restaurant in an empty shopping center on a boring stretch of county road, we looked at wine options beginning with the Loire before moving on to Chilean and Australian possibilities.

Asked her opinion of the southern hemisphere grapes, my friend inquired, "Why did we ever leave the Loire?" and in no time, a bottle of Domaine de la Chezatte Sancerre Blanc appeared, seducing us with its pear nose while its minerality decided my first course: bivalves.

It didn't hurt that on the menu were White Stone oysters (baked with butter, Pecorino, herbes fine and breadcrumbs) from an up and coming new oyster company I'd just read about earlier today in the Post, although I'm still not entirely convinced that producing oysters of the exact same size is desirable - come on, that doesn't happen in nature - but perhaps that's just me.

Over a wide-ranging dinner conversation - septuagenarians starting an artists' co-op, men's Star Trek boxer briefs with catch phrases (Go boldly! Engage!) on the waist band, conversational veneer - we dug deep into the four diamond menu, including a roasted winter vegetable ragout, which sounds vaguely healthful until you learn that it's crowned with a poached egg, Surry sausage, fresh Ricotta and lion's mane mushrooms made obscene with a celery root cream sauce.

No, really, the veggies were there somewhere.

High marks went to a salad of poached pears, duck confit, Goats 'R Us Camembert, walnuts and maple vinaigrette, but mainly as a way of absolving guilt for what was to come.

Good as my brandy peppercorn-crusted ahi tuna with scallions, Sea Island peas, roasted peppers and truffle vinaigrette was, nothing could touch my friend's red wine-braised ruby veal (a heritage breed, not to mention a one pound serving) with toothsome saffron heirloom creamer peas, arugula and citrus salad, shaved sweet onion and forest mushroom emulsion, a dish that was summed up with the pronouncement, "My expectations have been met and that never happens."

Truer words were never spoken, whether applicable to food, entertainment or people. Call me easy, but I'm not that hard to please.

To satisfy our collective sweet tooths (teeth?), we ordered two dark chocolate souffle cakes with creme fraiche, dulce de leche, Port, blackberries and vanilla gelato before rolling out of a restaurant that had been uninhabited when we'd arrived and was now at capacity.

Diamonds are a restaurant's best friend, it would seem, even one in a lonesome location.

The reason for our ridiculously early meal was an equally ridiculously early curtain for Quill Theatre's "The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr: Abridged" at an even more remote location than dinner: the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen.

The three man play promised us intellectual salvation and managed to cover all of Shakespeare's plays with a nod to the sonnets and spit us out at a reasonable hour, with non-stop hilarity along the way.

From the initial introduction which included a tutorial in how to use an oxygen mask should something drastic happen at the Cultural Arts Center mid-performance to the backwards ending, we laughed off a lot of our dinner, or at least that's what we told ourselves.

During the mocking of "Romeo and Juliet," for instance, when an actor walked onstage, another said, "It's the Prince," only to be corrected to, "The artist formerly known as Prince," after which all three kissed their first two fingers and raised them to heaven along with their eyes.

Where, in a scene of timeless romance
He'll try to get into Juliet's pants

Or when Romeo starts being overly familiar with fair Juliet and she reminds him in a singsong voice, "Second base is for second dates!"

"Titus Andronicus" was re-imagined as a cooking show ("Welcome, Gore-mays!") geared to those who don't feel like cooking after a long day of killing, severing and cannibalizing, while Othello became a rap despite the very white actors. How white? They met at a They Might Be Giants show.

All sixteen comedies were condensed into a montage dubbed "The Loveboat Goes to Verona," with assorted lovers and cousins washed ashore by "massive waves, like the rising tide of nationalism in the world."

So, yea, there was much referencing of current events throughout. Shakespeare takes on fresh nuances in Trump's America.

Because they said that Shakespeare's comedies aren't as funny as his tragedies, they performed "Macbeth" in ridiculously thick Scottish accents, with Macduff saying, "I was from my mother's womb untimely ripped. I didn't like it but I support a woman's right to choose."

It was during "Julius Cesar" that actor CJ Bergin was reminded by his fellow actors Dixon Cashwell and Joseph Bromfield that, "Not all Shakespeare's heroines wear bad wigs and vomit onstage," which you'd never have known given how many bad wigs and the abundance of stage vomiting we'd already seen.

Diving into the geo-political plays, we saw "Two Noble Kinsman" ridiculed as "Chernobyl Kinsman" before witnessing an interpretive dance version of "Troilus and Cressida" ("I love interpretive dance. It's so pretentious!").

"Richard II" and "Richard III" became a football game with a penalty for "fictional character on the field" when King Lear put in an appearance. By the time we got to intermission, all three actors were a hot, sweaty mess.

The second act began, not by reading any of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, but by passing from audience member to member a card that contained the first line of them all while Joseph played a song flute onstage.

The card never made it to us, that's all I'm saying. Thankfully, I have my own copy of the sonnets and not just the first lines, either.

Naturally, "Hamlet" got the lion's share of performance time with Dixon scootching and somersaulting to reach the spotlight when it was time for his "To be or not to be" soliloquy and the audience members being recruited to play the ego, super ego and id of Ophelia.

There was a lot of screaming involved, but mercifully, no heaving.

After the final scene, they trio redid "Hamlet" except even more quickly this time and then, just to show off, did it backwards ("Listen for the Satanic messages!") and it was over. Two hours and every worthwhile Shakespearean endeavor had been alluded to, mocked and, in a few cases, even quoted accurately, albeit with a lot of bad wigs and onstage vomiting.

Rather than call it a night, I suggested the Gypsy Room for jazz because Brunswick was playing and, coincidentally, they have an absinthe fountain and it's been an absinthe sort of a weekend.

Scoring stools at the center of the bar facing the fountain, we fashioned our own drips - fact: no two people like the same ratio of sugar cube and ice water to wormwood - while the band got set up and familiar faces began drifting in - the former neighbor, the DJ, the photographer, the musician, the restaurateur.

The Gypsy Room has such great sound and the 13-piece Brunswick took full advantage, regaling the ever-growing crowd with a horn-filled vibe alternately chill and rousing, so just what a Saturday night needed.

Even for those beaten by the queen of hearts every time.

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