Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sweet Smoke of Rhetoric

All the couples wanted my company today.

The newlyweds invited me to join them for the RVA Clay Studio Tour, a drive-yourself opportunity to visit over 20 studios and houses to ogle more than 100 artists' handiwork.

The Beauty, herself a beginning clay artist, promised that we would not be out all day because her husband Beckham had already set parameters: "There are only so many clay pots you can look at in one day."

He can say that to her.

When I got in their car, she admitted that she was still amazed that Beckham had been willing to come along. "I only came because Karen was coming," he joked, but we both benefited from having company every time she got into discussions of glazes and kilns with another potter.

Our first stop was in Bon Air, in a house the owner said was one of many in the neighborhood designed by a Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice. "They were kit houses brought in on the railroad," he shared.

At a Forest Hill studio housed in a backyard outbuilding, I inquired about a row of wood circles, only to find they were her husband's collection of tree knots, culled from his work in the tree biz.

"You'd be amazed what people think they are," she whispered, raising her eyebrows. Her pots were eye-catching because of the unusual substances - Miracle Grow to make blue and baking soda to create a cloudy white effect - she'd incorporated into her glazes.

We made two more stops somewhere in the Westover/Stratford Hills area, providing glimpses into neighborhoods I didn't really know between admiring pottery and bantering about the shrubs he'd been making lately.

That is, when he's not making orange-iced rosemary cake or goat cheese cheesecake. Beauty found one of the truly great ones when she met Beckham (and vice versa).

The next stop was to be the Depot, but we slid into Assado (Beckham hadn't been there since it was the dark and claustrophobic Empire and he was amazed at what letting in all that light did to the place - he didn't recognize it until I told him what it had been) first for tacos - barbacoa, patas bravas, spicy ginger grilled shrimp, fried green tomato and bacon and finally, fish tacos - and non-clay conversation before they moved on to see more pots and I walked home.

Much as I enjoyed seeing the handiwork of so many talented artists, I also love being with this couple because they're young and in love and it's soul-nourishing to be around.

When I offered him a bite of my shrimp or fish tacos, he demurred, saying, "No, I want to to be able to kiss her later," a reference to her dislike of anything seafood related. Just as I was marveling at how considerate he was being, he relented and had a bite.

Maybe he planned to brush before going in for a kiss. When we parted company, they had more pottery to see and I had walking to do.

The couple who picked me up tonight, Pru and Beau, are at a slightly different relationship stage than the newlyweds, so they don't gush or look at each other with cow eyes. Plus Pru's Mom was along for the ride and who wants to make sex jokes in front of their parent?

Fortunately, we were going to see a play about love, but our first stop was L'Opossum for a dinner that outdid itself.

To get us started were ham and escargot biscuits, chilled vichysoisse with crabmeat and corn, the vegan orgy on Texas Beach (aka papadoms with five vegetable spreads) and French onion dip gratine taken over the top with currant rye bread.

With Shakespeare looming large ahead of us, dinner discussion revolved around language, at one point about how to pronounce "niche." Beau, ever the technology geek, couldn't stop himself from researching it mid-meal, only to learn that both pronunciations - neesh and nich - are acceptable.

Don't get me started on multiple pronunciations based on popular usage. Really, if enough people mispronounce a word, we're going to say the incorrect pronunciation is also valid? Please.

Most interesting thing learned? That niche can also be a verb, a fact that led to extended niche wordplay which Beau tried to shut down (unsuccessfully) multiple times.

More exceptional eats arrived in the form of melt-in-your-mouth grouper over wild rice and greens, crabcakes with so little filler they fell apart into lumps of crab meat, obscene seared Hudson Valley foie gras and - ta da - lobster mac and cheese described on the menu as in a "ridiculously rich white truffle mornay cream sauce."

Ridiculously may be a fine adverb but it does not begin to cover butter-poached lobster. We did a number on it anyway.

Needless to say, dessert was out of the question, but my sweet tooth was unexpectedly satisfied by a final course of salad with pickled leeks and two dressings, a Green Goddess under the mesclun and a tequila sorbet dressing on top. Perfection.

Tonight's entertainment was Quill Theater's "Love's Labour's Lost" (considered the most Shakespearean of Shakespeare's plays) at Agecroft and, for a change, the weather was so perfect, so breezy and un-humid, that we didn't need the fans we'd brought.

Hell, I'd brought my entire fan collection, all six of them, and never required a one.

The mind shall banquet, though the body pine.

The program had informed us that the play was a master class in the use and abuse of language, and if anyone enjoys language abuse and use, it's this crowd. Because it's less often produced, I hadn't seen it since 2002 at Dogwood Dell.

Love is familiar. Love is a devil. There is no evil angel but love.

When the play began at 7:30, the half moon perched off to the side lingered over the trees in a soft blue sky and at dusk, frogs began to make their presence known. By the second act, that moon was hanging high over the James, with fireflies and moths looping around the courtyard.

Is she wedded, or no?
To her will, sir.

Just the other day I'd told a girlfriend I was coming to Agecroft for this tonight and proceeded to wax poetic of the sensory pleasures of seeing the actors use the 500-year old building as a set and a prop. "No one's ever explained it to me that ways," she'd marveled. "Now it sounds like something I'd love to do."

Young blood does not obey an old decree.

In one scene tonight, Berowne appears head and shoulders over the top of the stone wall that separates two English cottage gardens (a wall, by the way, that was directly behind our seats) and then slides out of sight. That's the magic of using Agecroft as a prop.

Oh, they have lived long on the alms basket of words.

At one point, the ubiquitous Richmond train whistle moving through the night from somewhere along the river competed with the actors' voices for our attention.

Nip not the gaudy blossoms of your love.

Dan Cimo killed it as Boyet, the companion to the Princess and her ladies, scheming and plotting to ensure that the womenfolk outwit the men, while Alex Johnson played Berowne as ably in diction as in humor. Not for even a nanosecond out of character as Don Armado, Luke Schares used a hilarious accent, killer timing and an affecting performance to make him my focus anytime he was on stage.

Maggie Bavolack's portrayal of the country wench Jaquenettta, all tight skirt and decolletage, was hilarious, one step removed from that girl in "West Side Story" who proclaims, "I and Velma ain't dumb."

Our wooing does not end like an old play.

I certainly wasn't being wooed tonight, but absent that, watching an old play in a courtyard under the stars after a spectacular meal was pretty wonderful.

And for the record, I remain wedded to my will but willing to bend it for the good of the cause. My goal: for the mind and body to banquet.

Goodness knows the stomach already did.

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