Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Holiday Antidote

Happy birthday and Merry Christmas all in the same night.

It was celebration time for a friend and former co-worker so he'd invited his dearly beloved to Pasture to fete him. I was just glad he'd picked Pasture and not someplace further afield since my vehicle is out of commission.

Walking by Rappahannock, I saw it was mobbed with suits (private party) and Pasture wasn't much less crowded with the birthday celebration coinciding with a Modern Richmond happy hour. I've been wanting to go to one of their events for a while and haven't yet, but I did get to meet the organizer tonight, where I was introduced as "Karen, a woman about town."

That's one way of putting it.

I'd brought my friend the gift of cookies, a nod to the first year we were friends when I left six dozen cookies on his desk at work and he about burst with pleasure at the unexpected gift. We've been friends long enough now that he knows to expect a doctored card (I fill in the speech bubbles to suit our history) and cookies.

After catching up with a theater-loving friend who'd missed seeing "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," I spent time chatting with a favorite music writer about the lack of local girl bands, upcoming shows we need to see and the importance of learning how to discourse rather than argue.

When you want to make a point, it's best to stay calm, we agreed.

To fuel our banter, I ordered pinto bean dip with garden salsa and hot oil for scooping with tortilla chips. I love me some beans.

When I couldn't finish the chips, I handed the little brown bag of remainders to the birthday boy who happily munched away after already having far too many birthday drinks bought for him. I foresee a hangover for him tomorrow, a shame since he has work training tomorrow.

Midway through my conversation with the music writer, I spotted a former restaurateur I hadn't seen in ages and took some time to catch up with her. Facebook had let me know that she'd met the love of her life, but I wanted to hear the story.

It was a doozy, beginning with a last minute invitation to a friend wedding in the islands, a persistently romantic man she met in the wedding party ("He said he knew the moment he laid eyes on me"), fireworks exploding over them on a darkened beach and now she's moving north to live with him happily ever after.

I couldn't have been happier for her happiness. She said she'd about given up at her age (34, pshaw!) of finding Mr. Right and getting the whole fairy tale romance when boom! It landed in her lap when she least expected it.

Heaven knows, I'm enthralled with a romantic love story.

After a couple of hours at the party, it was time to bundle up and walk over to the Speakeasy for a staged reading of Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge. The house was rapidly filling up when I asked a couple if I could join their table, followed by a noted dancer and a culture big shot and his wife.

The table's original occupants were there because their daughter was ushering and they had loads of questions about theater in Richmond since they'd only recently started getting out to see plays and readings with her. In short order, they wanted the scoop on Firehouse Theater and why everyone in the room seemed to know each other. Our advice was not to miss the Acts of Faith preview.

Then it was time for a seriously hilarious holiday mashup.

The story, a takeoff on A Christmas Carol was so politically incorrect, so irreverent and so funny that I felt it more than balanced the retro and wholesome Christmas vibes I'd gotten seeing "White Christmas" Sunday. Or walking through any store right now.

The performance had plenty of wicked asides as well as commentary about the play itself (the young Jacob Marley asking, "Why don't I have any lines?" after a long discourse by other characters). The play posits that Ebenezer Scrooge's habit of saying "bah humbug" would be considered Tourette's syndrome these days.

The Ghost of Christmases Past, Present and Future, written for a black woman and played to perfection by Katrinah Carol Lewis, got laughs when Scrooge tells her, "I don't think there even were any Negro people in 1843."

Mrs. Bob Cratchit turned out to be a miserable woman who hated her life and was always leaving to get drunk and jump off of London Bridge. She belittled her children mercilessly, ignored their requests for food and barely tolerated her cheerfully sanctimonious husband, who tells his children, "Okay, on the count of three, everybody weep." And they do while the Mrs. rolls her eyes.

In a play full of references to other times, she bemoaned the absence of feminism. "I wish it were 1977 so I'd be admired for my unpleasantness," she wailed. No feminist stereotype there.

Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling put in appearances trying to involve Scrooge in a scam to sell "energy shares" and the ghost of Christmas past came dressed as a UPS delivery man. A scene from Scrooge's childhood ends up being a scene from "Oliver" with the plaintive, "May I have more, sir?" getting a big laugh.

The ghost of Christmas present scene had a Dutch couple exchanging gifts - a watch chain and hair comb - a tableau straight out of "The Gift of the Magi."

But eventually Clarence, the angel from It's A Wonderful Life, came along to help out the ghost and solve both Scrooge's attitude problem (after he supplies happy Meals for the Cratchit's Christmas dinner) as well as Mrs. Cratchit's misery.

But not before Mia Farrow takes 18 of the unwanted Cratchit children off their hands.

Todd Schall-Vess did a superb job as George Bailey, mimicking not only the timbre of Jimmy Stewart's voice but the exact cadence of the lines. No surprise there since the Byrd shows it every Christmas and Todd introduces it.

The twist that joins Scrooge and Mrs. Bob Cratchit in co-joined nastiness lands them in, when else, 1977, where they become Harry and Leona Helmsley. "Do something mean and let me watch," Scrooge tells her.

By the end of the play, the ghost is searching for a moral to the story, offering several possibilities and finally settling on this: If you're happy, you can be poor and if you're mean, you better get money.

Walking home in the cold night air, it hit me. Happiness must be the reason I can be so poor.

On the flip side, a mean person wouldn't have had to walk. Even so, I'll take it.

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