Sunday, December 21, 2014

Strange Bedfellows

On this winter solstice as 2014 winds down, I can think of no more important goal than to stay true to myself and the things I enjoy.

On this solitary Sunday, that was a walk across the Lee bridge and back. Planting the purloined tulip and hyacinth bulbs recently returned to me under sunny, blue skies. Taking my time reading the Washington Post with the last of the shortest day's afternoon sunlight beaming through the windows.

Then, shortly before sunset, I made my way to Hardywood to see Bard Unbound's performance of Shakespeare's drinking scenes, Part Deux.

Nothing smells less like Christmas than a hoppy brewery. On the other hand, I can tell you that three days before Christmas made for the most civilized crowd I've ever encountered at the brewery.

Maybe it was because they were out of Gingerbread Stout.

It was no surprise that holiday attire was everywhere, from bad Christmas sweaters to reindeer antler headbands. But top prize went to the woman who'd braided her hair to hold individual antlers and then knotted the braids into a bun, from which Rudolph's red nose and bright eyes peered out.

I found a perch near the front and waited for them to ring the bell announcing the start of the fun.

A scene from "Twelfth Night" began with one actor in a Christmas sweater "passed out" across a barrel of beer and was followed by a female Elvis impersonator singing "Blue Christmas" while an elf hula-danced beside the stage. Actors wore robes, nightcaps and red union suits and Father Christmas put in an appearance.

It was that kind of holiday entertainment.

The drunkenness of "Twelfth Night" continued until, deep in the crowd, we heard, "Do you make an alehouse of my lady's house?" Why, yes, we do.

The crowd was instructed to drink whenever words related to drinking - wine, mead, sack, drink - were mentioned by the actors. "Okay, let's practice, 1,2,3, drink!" Elvis instructed and then made us repeat it. "That's better. There will be a test at the end of the night."

Everyone but me would have passed with flying colors.

In between scenes, we all sang Christmas carols. For "Little Drummer Boy," we were told to beat on something and most people chose tables and floor but one guy used his head. During "Feliz Navidad," the actor singing got down on bended knee next to me, singing, "From the bottom of my heart" while shaking maracas at me.

With manic energy, much leaping on and off the stage and multiple costume changes, we saw scenes from Henry IV ("So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack?") and A Comedy of Errors ("Are my discourses dull? Barren my wit?") and Much Ado About Nothing ("Bid those that are drunk, get them to bed"), an especially enjoyable scene which began with a marching band playing the Pink Panther theme on kazoos.

The Tempest gave us, "He shall drink of my bottle," but my favorite came from The Merchant of Venice: "I will do anything, ere I be married to a sponge." Because who really wants to marry a sponge?

The evening ended with a classic and a threat. "We're now going to sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and there are a lot of verses, so do not sing the wrong one. If you do, we will take your beer away." Lyric sheets ensured that no one risked losing their life blood.

I, on the other hand, had nothing to lose.

The thing about the Sunday night before Christmas is that not much is happening, meaning my default plan was a movie. Tonight it was "Birdman" at the Criterion and it was obvious from the crowded parking lot that plenty of the people left in town had the same bright idea.

Although it was three months ago when I first saw the previews to "Birdman," it's only been in recent weeks that I made up my mind to see it. Don't get me wrong, I've been a Michael Keaton fan since "Night Shift" in 1982. But unlike the rest of the movie-going world, I never saw either of his "Batman" movies.

Probably the last thing I'd seen him in was Kenneth Branagh's 1993 "Much Ado About Nothing," where he played Dogberry and - here's where coincidence rears its unlikely head- I'd just witnessed a scene with Dogberry in it at Hardywood.

What, ho, my Dogberry worlds were colliding.

The film was fantastical, imaginative and impressively shot in what looked like all one take. Part black comedy ("Why don't I have any self respect?" "You're an actress, honey"), part farce, part action movie, it was an impressive piece of film and now I can see not only why critics have been raving, but why it's been on so many end of year "best of" lists.

With a script so well written that it's sure to be quoted for years to come ("That was bad, like Oprah/Hallmark/R. Kelly bad"), the story of a middle aged man who's worried that his best work is behind him and that his world has moved on without him was touching in a very real way. What if your best times are over and you just have to accept that?

Keaton's acting was impressive as the man struggling to redefine himself after having been a major star 20 years earlier, but my favorite moments were the same as the ones that made me fall hard for him 30+ years ago. "Hey, what's up?" he says with a subtle nod of the head and that iconic Michael Keaton casual delivery at the most unlikely moment.

When the movie ended, everyone just sat there, still absorbing what we'd just seen. It was big, it was glorious and it was a potent reminder that life is about staying true to yourself and what matters to you. Taking a page from Macbeth, I want to be carousing till the second cock.

I will do anything, ere I end up with dull discourses and barren wit. I shall never begin if I hold my peace.